A search on poem yields a number of pieces on subjects such as temperance ("Don't Send Your Child For Beer"), war (a "shape poem" entitled, "Beneath the Cross"), and civil rights ("The Negro as He Is"). Katherine Davis Tillman's 1898 essay, "Afro-American Poets and Their Verse" provides a comprehensive survey of African-American poets and includes some examples of their work as she makes the case for the value of the art:
Let no man who loves the Negro race then decry poetry, for it is by this and other proofs of genius that our race will be enabled to take its place among the nations of the earth. Then, let the poem of rudest construction not pass unnoticed, lest we throw away a diamond of precious thought . . . For poets thrive rapidly in a congenial atmosphere, and if we wish the best of which our poets are capable, we must inspire them to greater efforts by our appreciation of what they have already accomplished. . . .
Phillis Wheatley, an eighteenth century slave and writer is considered the first major African-American poet, and is well represented in this collection. A search on Wheatley yields a number of newspaper articles, and poems. For example, the discovery of Phillis Wheatley's copy of Paradise Lost in theHarvard Library prompted an 1893 biographical piece in the Cleveland Gazette.
- Why was Phillis Wheatley so highly regarded?
- Who was Wheatley's audience?
- What emotions do her poems convey?
- How does her work compare to that of poets who followed her?
- In a 1974 essay, entitled "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," Alice Walker discusses the influence of Phillis Wheatley. How does her account compare with the biographical information in this collection?
A search on Dunbar also provides a good deal of biographical information about Paul Laurence Dunbar, an esteemed nineteenth-century poet. Accounts of Dunbar's life are available in another 1893 Cleveland Gazette piece and a 1914 booklet, while his 1894 poem about a Thanksgiving turkey, "Signs of the Times" provides an example of his dialectical voice. Other poets followed Dunbar's lead in making African-American dialect a standard in their work.
- What is the purpose of dialect in poetry?
- Why does Dunbar use dialect?
- Who was Dunbar's audience?
- What messages does Dunbar relate in his work?
- How does his work compare with African-American poets from the early twentieth century?