Henry Louis Gates Jr, An African American Literature Scholar Essay

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Henry Louis Gates Jr, an African American literature scholar, asserts, “No poet in the tradition was more crucial in the shaping of a distinct African- American poetic diction or voice than he, [Paul Laurence Dunbar]” (68). Dunbar’s ability to communicate the struggles of America through the black experience, with the assistance of Negro dialect, elevated him to become one of the most influential African American poets of his time. His success with written language allows today’s readers to experience and obtain knowledge about the life of an African American before and after the Civil War. The life and literature of Dunbar continue to galvanize students, educators, and critics today. Dunbar’s ancestral connection with slavery and interactions with social activists greatly influenced the common motif – “slave consciousness” – conveyed through his use of varied vernacular in the poems “An Ante-Bellum Sermon” (1897), “Accountability” (1897), and “We Wear the Mask” (1897).
Born June 27, 1872, in Dayton, Ohio, to Joshua Dunbar, an escaped Kentucky slave, and Matilda Murphy, a former slave and educator, Paul Laurence Dunbar would become one of America’s most prolific African-American poets. Dunbar’s parents separated when he was two years old; this separation put a strain on his relationship with his authoritarian father. Although Dunbar had few jovial interactions with his father, he found comfort and support in his mother, Matilda. At an early age, the importance of education…

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