edited by Cynthia C. Murillo and Jennifer M. Nader
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
University of Alabama Press, 2021
eISBN: 978-0-8173-9334-2 | Cloth: 978-0-8173-2078-2
Library of Congress Classification PS1557.A4 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.4

These 250 transcribed and annotated letters reveal the personal and literary life of one of the most highly regarded African American writers and intellectuals
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1873–1906) was arguably the most famous African American poet, novelist, and dramatist at the turn of the twentieth century and one of the earliest African American writers to receive national recognition and appreciation. Scholars have taken a renewed interest in Dunbar but much is still unknown about this once-famous African American author’s life and literary efforts. Dunbar’s letters to various editors, friends, benefactors, scholars, and family members are crucial to any critical or theoretical understanding of his journey as a writer. His literary correspondence, in particular, records the development of an extraordinary figure whose work reached a broad readership in his lifetime, but not without considerable cost.
The Selected Literary Letters of Paul Laurence Dunbar is a collection of 250 letters, transcribed and annotated, that reveal the personal and literary life of one of the most highly regarded African American writers and intellectuals. Editors Cynthia C. Murillo and Jennifer M. Nader highlight Dunbar not just as a determined author and master of rhetoric, but also as a young, sensitive, thoughtful, keenly intelligent, and talented writer who battled depression, alcoholism, and tuberculosis as well as rejection and racism. Despite Dunbar’s personal struggles, his literary letters disclose that he was full of hopes and dreams coupled with the resolve to flourish as a writer—at almost any cost, even when it caused controversy.
Taken together, Dunbar’s letters depict his concerted effort to succeed as an author within an overtly racist literary culture, among sharp divides within the African American intellectual community, and in opposition to the demands of popular public tastes—often dictated by the demands of publishers. This wide-ranging selection of Dunbar’s most relevant literary letters will serve to correct many matters of conjecture about Dunbar’s life, writing, and choices by supplying factual evidence to counter speculation, assumption, and incomplete information.