Alice Ruth Dunbar-Nelson


Picture courtesy of:
University of Delaware Library





For nature has her sorrows and her joys,
As all the piled-up mountains and low vales
Will silently attest--and hang thy head
In dire confusion, for having dared
To moan at thine own miseries
When God and nature suffer silently.

---Alice Dunbar-Nelson---"Three Thoughts"

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Alice Ruth Moore (Dunbar-Nelson) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on July 19, 1875 to, working-class parents of mixed black, white, and Native American ancestry, Joseph Moore, a merchant marine, and Patricia Wright, a seamstress. She could pass as white but she identified herself as a person of color.
She attended public school in Louisiana ¹ and then completed a teacher-training program at Straight College (now Dillard University). Over the years she taught at various institutions, but teaching was far from her only talent. She knew bookkeeping and stenography which she used occasionally to support herself. She was also an above average student of the piano and cello and could act. Her finest gift and reigning passion, however, was writing.

In 1895 Alice book "Violets and Other Tales" was published. A collection of poetry, short stories, essays, reviews and other prose pieces.

²From the PREFACE of "Violets and Other Tales"

"These fugitive pieces are launched upon the tide of public opinion to sink or swim upon their merit. They will float for a while, but whether they will reach the haven of popularity depends upon their enduring qualities. Some will surely perish, many will reach some port, but time alone will tell if any shall successfully breast the ocean of thought and plant its standard upon the summit of fame."

*
This book brought Alice to the attention of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the most celebrated poet of the day. A friendship that began with correspondence blossomed into a romance. Alice and Paul Dunbar married in 1898.
¹ Alice and Paul seemed the ideal couple, but their marriage was fraught with troubles. The Dunbars separated in 1901 (Paul died in 1906). Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar married again: in 1910, to Henry Arthur Callis, a teacher at the time; and in 1916, to journalist Robert J. Nelson, with whom she published the Wilmington Advocate.



Four years after her first book, Violets and Other Tales, "The Goodness of St. Rocque, and Other Stories" was published, it was the first short story collection published in the United States by an African American. It contained local-color stories and featured poignant portraits of women who experienced gender oppression.

³ After her marriage to Robert J. Nelson in 1916, Dunbar-Nelson published chiefly in the periodical press. "People of Color in Louisiana" (Journal of Negro History) in 1917 was followed by her poetry, which was published in the NAACP's Crisis, Ebony and Topaz, and the Urban League's Opportunity. Countee Cullen also included three of her most popular poems, "I Sit and I Sew," "Snow in October," and "Sonnet," in his collection of African-American poets, Caroling Dusk (1927).

¹Over the years this multi-talented woman continued to write. She contributed poetry and prose to the Journal of Negro History, the Messenger, the Pittsburgh Courier, and other periodicals. She also published two more books: Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence (1914) and The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer (1920).

She died on 18 September 1935 in Philadelphia. She was cremated and her ashes were eventually scattered over the Delaware River.


Three Thoughts
If I had Known
Love and the Butterfly




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To view more of Alice Dunbar-Nelson's poems:
from "Violets and other Tales"
Digital Schomburg Center for African American Women's Writing
and
The goodness of St. Rocque, and other stories
Digital Schomburg Center for African American Women's Writing

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Some more of her work includes:


From Violets and Other Tales

VIOLETS, THE WOMAN, TEN MINUTES' MUSING, A PLAINT, IN UNCONSCIOUSNESS, TITEE , ANARCHY ALLEY , IMPRESSIONS, SALAMMBO, LEGEND OF THE NEWSPAPER, A CARNIVAL JANGLE, PAUL TO VIRGINIA , THE MAIDEN'S DREAM, IN MEMORIAM , A STORY OF VENGEANCE, AT BAY ST. LOUIS, NEW YEAR'S DAY, THE UNKNOWN LIFE OF JESUS -- CHRIST, IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, FAREWELL, LITTLE MISS SOPHIE, CHALMETLE, AT EVENTIDE, THE IDLER, THE BEE-MAN , AMID THE ROSES,


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[Poet's Corner Index]

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Reference, Research and Source Information


¹ Digital Schomburg Center for African American Women's Writing --Biographies

² Digital Schomburg Center for African American Women's Writing

³ Modern American Poetry

*Picture courtesy of:
National Humanities Center



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