Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of the most celebrated American poets of the late 19th century. Dunbar was raised in Dayton, Ohio by formerly enslaved parents who were emancipated after the Civil War. He began writing poetry at the age of six and published his first poem at 16. Though he died young, Dunbar published over a dozen collections of poetry, four novels, several short story collections, and an original play before succumbing to tuberculosis at age 33. Dunbar’s work, enjoyed by presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, centers the everyday experience of Black men and women in fin de siècle America.
Dunbar collaborated with the Hampton Institute Camera Club to illustrate six of his poetry collections. The Club’s affirming portraits of Black Americans became some of the mostly widely distributed images of African American visual culture in U.S. history. Dunbar’s 1901 work, Candle-lightin’ Time is a prime example of their partnership. The collection’s first poem, “Dinah Kneading Dough,” tenderly describes Dinah’s breadmaking accompanied by images of a Black woman elbow-deep in flour in her kitchen.
The images from Candle-lightin’ Time in this post are from a copy digitized by Widener Library, but Houghton is home to a dozen works by Dunbar, three of which are illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club. Book design aficionados may be interested to know that several of Dunbar’s books were designed by Margaret Armstrong—as is the case here with Candle-lightin’ Time—and Alice Morse. A complete list of Houghton’s Dunbar titles can be found on HOLLIS.
Thanks to Christine Jacobson, Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post and to Dorothy Berry, Digital Collections Program Manager, for her expertise and assistance with this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.