Do you know why the caged bird sings?Gene Jarrett takes readers back to the Gilded Age in new biography of Paul Lawrence Dunbar #Dunbar #wrote #nowfamous #line Welcome to 50 Mind BlogHere is our latest breaking news and trending broadcast for you today: :
Gene Jarrett, Dean of Princeton University and William S. Tod Professor of English, has taught students about Paul Laurence Dunbar for 20 years and has published book articles and chapters about this popular and accomplished author. But it wasn’t until 2008 that Jarrett decided to tackle the biography of Dunbar, who rose to prominence during the Gilded Age.
biography,”Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Life and Times of a Caged Bird,” Princeton University Press, June 7. June 27, 2022, marks Dunbar’s 150th birthday.
Jarrett, a 1997 Princeton graduate who returned to college last summer, says the biographical genre allows him to tell new stories of Dunbar’s complex journey as a writer.As he writes in the book’s acknowledgments, the biography is “rooted in storytelling and scholarship,” allowing him to shed light on “those who lead [Dunbar’s] Literary pen. “
Born to formerly enslaved parents during Reconstruction, Dunbar (1872-1906) overcame all odds to become an accomplished artist and possessed Known as “the Poet Laureate of his race”. But as audiences in the United States and Europe flocked to admire his literature, Dunbar privately bemoaned shouldering the burden of race, pandering to bard stereotypes to earn fame and money. He died at the age of 33.
Below, Jarrett reveals the backstory to several moments in the book and reflects on how his Princeton professor, Tony Morrison, helped shape his own story as a writer.
This story was published on the occasion of Dunbar’s 150th birthday. Despite his pivotal place in American literary history, Dunbar may not be familiar to contemporary readers. Which moment in the book do you think Dunbar himself would choose on his birthday to shed light on the impact of his life as a writer?
Of course, it’s hard to speculate on what Dunbar would choose, since he’s such a complex guy! I am inclined to say, however, that he appreciates his repeated successes in literature and the wide-ranging influence he has had on those who read his literature or listen to his performances.
One moment that comes to mind is when he recited a poem “An American Ode to the Colored People” at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. His mentor, the great African American orator and statesman, Frederick Douglass, had just delivered a fiery speech. In a speech titled “Race in America,” he attacked stereotypes of African-Americans at the fair. Dunbar not only witnessed Douglas’s great ability to impress crowds with his oratory persuasion; he later recited his poems in honor of African Americans, including his father, Joshua Dunbar, who represented Union troops in the Civil War decades earlier fight. Dunbar’s performance drew rapturous applause, using his poetry to express the audience’s delight, while also expressing a true nod to him — both literally and figuratively — for following in Douglas’ footsteps on the public stage.
A line from Dunbar’s 1899 poem “Sympathy” — “I know why the caged bird sings” — became famous again when Maya Angelou made it the title of her first memoir in 1969. The subtitle of your book refers to Dunbar himself as “The Bird in the Cage,” and writes in it “The Eternal Relevance of Dunbar’s Original Songs.” How does this poem make you feel like it’s the bell of an era that continues to resonate in the present?
The arc of historical significance linking Dunbar to Maya Angelou’s use of the “caged bird” symbol is the personal struggle against social prejudice: the extent to which a person with a unique sense of self and set of future aspirations is constrained by or by the world imposed preconceptions.
Dunbar and Angelo ended up using the metaphor for different purposes: in one case, Dunbar’s poem presumably (if autobiographical) attests to the conflict of a young black man at the turn of the twentieth century; on the other hand, Angelo’s The work is a true autobiography that conveys this situation in the life of a mature black woman in modern times. I would argue that beyond race and gender, the concept of a caged bird has broad universal implications for individuals from different social backgrounds and identities.
During the Gilded Age, Dunbar rose to fame by publicly reading his writings, but he began to see the popularity of his dialect poetry as a curse and a blessing. Although he knew white audiences liked “Stop arguing, Miss Lucy—/Put away that music book…,He was conflicted about being confined to this stereotyped genre when he knew that his artistic talent was much more than that. Which of Dunbar’s life experiences specifically focus on in your book to illustrate how this conflict played out in his role in writing?
The benefit of my biography is an insight into Dunbar’s private life through his letters to family, friends and acquaintances. In this case, if you will, we have a more real, real sense of his personal and professional challenge to writing literature when the commercial flair of dialects, such as your excerpted lines, happens to be so strong simple view.
In a March 1897 letter to an acquaintance, Dunbar spoke of William Howells, the so-called dean of the American Academy of Letters, who could make or break a literary career, but also happened to praise Dunbar in a book review 1895 In his book “The Major and the Major”: “I see now all too clearly that Mr. Howells has done me irreparable harm in the aphorisms he put forward to my dialect verses. Although Dunbar found success from Howells’ comments, he was troubled by his public image as a dialect poet. Dunbar would capture this conundrum in a poem “The Poet” published in his 1903 collection of poems “Love and Laughter”: “He sang of love when the earth was young, / And love itself was in his lies./ But ah, world, it becomes the clang of praise/tongues.”
Dunbar had some famous friends, including Orville Wright, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and the British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, among others. Can you share the details of one of the friendships you’ve followed to show readers a transformative moment in Dunbar’s journey as a writer?
Dunbar and Orville Wright were founding partners in a short-lived newspaper called The Dayton Chatter that was published in Dayton, Ohio, in late 1890. They were classmates at Dayton Central High School and respected each other as collaborators: Dunbar edited the paper to cater to Dayton’s African-American community; Orville ran the print in West Dayton with his brother Wilbur paper shop.
Don’t get too hung up on you, but you can read my biography about how a black boy and a white boy, in Dunbar and The Orville, came together improbably despite the specter of segregation in America , and how that relationship was a key backdrop for Dunbar’s transformation into a professional writer (and, well, Orville himself developed into an iconic pilot).
In the introduction to the book, you describe Dunbar (who died at 33) as an “amazing and prolific” writer who produced “a series of works that demonstrate his mastery of the literary genre.” Tell us about a Dunbar poem, essay, novel, short story or Broadway lyrics or lyrics that mean something special to you.
It’s understandable that Dunbar is a poet, but as you’ve noticed, he’s also a writer of other genres. His first novel, The Unsummoned, was published in 1898 — just after his poetry catapulted him onto the international stage — and it turned out to be quite a piece of literature.
Not only does the novel strangely avoid The traditional cast and vernacular of African-Americans that African-American writers have come to expect in business; it also tells the story of a young man whose race is not made explicit, but whose life is likewise autobiographically reflected in Dunbar’s The problems he faces in his own life: the turmoil of living in a family with his parents, his troubled relationship with his parents in rural life, and his mental anxieties about his insults to the past and how the latter predetermines his future.
The novel incorporates the formal and thematic features one would encounter in turn-of-the-twentieth-century American naturalist novels, such as those by Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane, with a premise that the environment will damage yours The strength of an institution determines its own future. I enjoyed learning and talking about Dunbar’s first novel this way.
Gene Jarrett, on Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Tony Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize in the fall semester of her first year at Princeton, but you didn’t meet her until your junior year, when you took her course “Africanism in America,” which studies Africanism in American literature. American characters. Did you feel Morrison whispering on your shoulder or in your ear as you wrote Dunbar’s biography?
Interesting question! Well, there are different ways to explain what it means to have a legend staring over your shoulder when you’re trying to make a sentence. I will say that she has high standards for her students as well as for other writers and scholars. I was honored to be her student at Princeton, reading her edits of my sentences and her margins next to my paragraphs, trying to probe the essence of my concepts and hone the contours of my arguments.
As I’ve gotten older and matured as a person and as a writer, I tend to say that I worked hard to write my biography to make her proud that one of her former students could perform in a different genre than she seeks Excellent novel, but still with the same thinking and expression, depicting a person’s complete life and times. I can fully imagine her despair over how some of my sentences ended up spilling onto the page. On the other hand, I hope she can also use other sentences as promising examples of the inevitable pain and joy that can result from any serious literary attempt to write the right word at the right time.