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Paul Laurence Dunbar Documentary Hits Public Television Airwaves Nationally

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A new documentary “Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond the Mask” is being distributed to public television stations across the nation through the National Educational Telecommunications Association. The film highlights the life and legacy of the first African American to achieve national acclaim as a writer.
The documentary will air on WOUB HD on February 14 at 8 p.m.

The documentary is the result of a collaboration of three Ohio University faculty members: Dr. Judith Yaross Lee – Distinguished Professor in Communication Studies, Dr. Joseph Slade, Professor Emeritus in Media Arts and Studies and Emeritus Director of the Central Region Humanities Center and director, writer, producer and filmmaker Frederick Lewis.

Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio to former slaves in 1872 and died at age 34 in 1906. He is often remembered for his poem “We Wear the Mask.” He also is honored because one of his lines from “Sympathy” became the title of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

He also wrote essays against Jim Crow laws and lynching and he became friends with many African-American leaders of his time. Although he was considered an intellectual, he wrote many of his poems and stories in “Plantation Dialect.”

During his short life, in addition to his poetry and essays, he also composed songs for Broadway.

As a youth, he was a neighbor and friends with Orville and Wilbur Wright in Dayton. They, in fact, printed Dunbar’s African American newspaper on their printing press.

This documentary, eight years in the making, is a production of the Central Region Humanities Center and received support from Ohio Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.