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AfriGeneas Writers Forum


Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson, an extraordinary poet, author, and literary force in the Harlem Renaissance was born in New Orleans in 1875, almost 100 years before the Barbadian pop star, Rihanna.

Both women were born into culturally influenced Caribbean societies. Both are linked to men who were in the same creative field. Both unfortunately they were beaten and abused by these same men who claimed that they loved them.

I’ll leave the reports and speculation about the fate of the battered beautiful Rihanna to the print and electronic press.

My focus is on the life and works of Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson who barely survived the brutality of her husband, writer Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

I remember reading author Paula J. Giddings’ review of “Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow 
The Tragic Courtship and Marriage 
of Paul Laurence Dunbar 
and Alice Ruth Moore: A History 
of Love and Violence Among 
the African American Elite” by Eleanor Alexander in the New York Times. Frankly I was shocked to read of Paul Dunbar’s brutal rape of Alice before they married. Ms. Giddings writes “In January 1902, four years before his death at the age of 34, he beat Alice within an inch of her life. She left him and, ignoring his ardent entreaties for reconciliation, never saw him again.”

Giddings adds a compelling observation about author Alexander’s book “…falls into the cant of academic discourse about spousal abuse, rape and the limited choices of a 19th-century black woman with Alice's social and literary ambitions. Clearly there is so much more here to be read both in and between the lines, but there is little analysis of the sort that would yield deeper insights.”

Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson’s poems and literary works aren’t centered on her life with the cruel alcoholic husband. Yes indeed, Paul Lawrence Dunbar was an absolute monster. But her published works resonate with intelligence, historical perspective and beautiful poetic imagery. They range from New Orleans culture and history to commentaries on various subjects.

Please read Dunbar’s “Violets and Other Tales” at the link below.

Or “The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories”

The University of Delaware offers a page from her diary:

Please remember that this is Women’s History Month. I do hope that you will celebrate the life of Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson. She chose a new and better life and left us with a rich legacy that I’m proud to share with you.


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18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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