NPR Remembers Dunbar On The Centennial Of His Death

LeBlanc, Aileen. “Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Legacy of Language.” NPR.org. 12 Feb. 2006. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5200796>.

In this Weekend Edition broadcast, Aileen LeBlanc commemorates the centennial of Dunbar’s death with a brief profile of Dunbar’s life and work.  Written to introduce Dunbar to the general public, the piece includes performances of “A Negro Love Song,” “An Ante-Bellum Sermon,” and “We Wear The Mask,” as well as anecdotes and biographical details of his life and death.  Without identifying it specifically, LeBlanc explains Dunbar’s use of Double Consciousness as “presenting one face to white readers of the time while slipping in a message for his people,” noting that at the time of his death, he was popular with both blacks and whites. LeBlanc introduces Dunbar’s dialect poetry as “the kind of language Dunbar grew up hearing” and which Dunbar loved despite contemporary African American sentiment that blacks should distance themselves from such language.  Paraphrasing author Herbert Martin, LeBlanc suggests that it is time readers “see the humanity in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s dialect poetry,” suggesting, but not naming, the debate over dialect’s role as a poetic medium.  “[Dunbar] never considered the dialect poetry to be anyway inferior to his Standard English poetry,” says Joanne Braxton, Dunbar scholar editor of the 1993 a collection of Dunbar’s works (the introduction of which is reviewed in another entry).  Braxton explains her rationale for the edition, recalling that when she had gone to find a collection for her students to use, she was shocked to find that the works of such an important poet were almost all out of print.  LeBlanc concludes by noting the current resurgence in Dunbar scholarship and mentioning the upcoming Dunbar conference at Stanford University, lectures from which are reviewed in another entry.

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