First published in 1922, "The Complete Poems" of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a republication of his major poetry, is an attempt to reclaim Dunbar as a poet of permanent importance.
Once considered the leading African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s posthumous reputation went into a decline in the 1920’s, amid charges that he had accommodated negative stereotypes by writing poetry in black dialect.
William Dean Howells helped establish Dunbar’s national reputation when he favourably reviewed Dunbar’s collection of poetry. Howells recognized the exceptional quality of Dunbar’s black dialect poetry but commented that there was nothing notable about Dunbar’s standard English poetry. This judgment was to haunt the young Dunbar. Seeing himself as a poet who, as he said in “The Poet,” “sang of life serenely sweet,/With now and then a deeper note,” Dunbar was perplexed that the world “turned to praise” only his jingles “in a broken tongue.”