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Paul Laurence Dunbar, Persona, and Poetic Performance

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, December 7, 2016. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Humanities Center Boardroom
Meeting Description: 

Amanda Licato (PhD candidate, English) will be workshopping a chapter from her dissertation, “‘Out from Behind this Mask’: Persona in African American Poetry, 1830-1930.” J. D. Porter (PhD candidate, English) will be responding.

Of her chapter, Amanda writes:

This chapter places issues of dialect, authenticity, and performance in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s formal English poems against a re-theorization of the poetic speaker, or persona, and Dunbar’s own role as a performer. In poetic theory, persona is generally regarded as the function that gives a poem its voice or constructed identity. Originating in classical drama as a masking device—in which an exchange of masks would delineate a shift in character and voice—poetic persona exerts a peculiar power for African American writers: the historical backdrops of the slave era and Jim Crow, after all, codified in the long nineteenth century an association of black identity with masquerade, and the national art form of blackface minstrelsy meant that black writers were unquestionably aware of the likening of their racial identity to the concept of wearing masks. Using this approach to dramatic speakers, I tease out the significance of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s formal English poems on conventional themes, in which his speakers act as poets performing their own (often stalled or failed) literary work. Dunbar’s resistance of an Emersonian optimism and unbridled individualism ultimately emphasizes the deeply problematic myth about the liberties and imaginative possibilities of poets, particularly African American ones.

Contact for the precirculated reading.