Paul Laurence Dunbar letters to Reginald Wright Kauffman

Biographical and Historical Notes

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), though most widely known for his dialectic verse, also wrote short stories, novels, essays, and poetry in standard English.

Dunbar's first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy, was self-published in 1893. His next book of poetry, Majors and Minors, published by Hadley & Hadley in 1896, received the positive attention of American novelist William Dean Howell; who praised Dunbar's dialectic poems in a review published in Harper's Weekly. This positive critical reception in a popular American periodical launched Dunbar's career. Paul Laurence Dunbar would write numerous collections of poetry, several novels, collections of short stories, as well as participate in reading tours in the United States and England.


"Paul Laurence Dunbar." Contemporary Authors Online (reproduced in Gale Biography In Context). (accessed March 5, 2014).

Reginald Wright Kauffman (1877-1959)

American writer and editor Reginald Wright Kauffman (1877-1959) was an Associate Editor of the Saturday Evening Post when he corresponded with Dunbar in 1905.

Kaufman, who wrote numerous works of fiction and screenplays for Hollywood film productions, was also the editor of the Bangor Maine Daily News and an accredited correspondent with the United States Navy.

Between 1914 and 1934, a number of Kauffman's stories and novels were produced as Hollywood films, including The House of Bondage (1914), adapted from his novel of the same title, and School for Girls (1934), based on his story Our Undisciplined Daughters.


"Reginald Wright Kauffman." Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, Pennsylvania. (accessed March 5, 2014).

Scope and Content Note

In 1905, African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) responded to an inquiry from Reginald Kauffman (1877-1959), an associate editor of the Saturday Evening Post, who was soliciting Dunbar for poems or stories.

The two typed and signed letters, dated October 4, and November 13, 1905, reveal Dunbar's sense of humor and the difficulties of trying to survive as a writer. Lamenting the financial proposition of "verse writing," Dunbar wrote, "I have been contemplating for a long while the institution of a pension committee for ancient and decayed verse writers," and then offered a deprecating anecdote about his "fame" (October 4).

Dunbar wrote on November 13, of being an invalid and needing an attendant, but then followed with a humorous anecdote about the lack of respect for his writing. Dunbar concluded his letter by mentioning the poem "Sling along," which he had enclosed (no longer with the letter). Both letters provide insight into the professional life of a poet in the early twentieth century.