'Of course I shall defend you': Gene Andrew Jarrett on Paul Laurence Dunbar
On February 13th, 2023, Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions hosted Gene Andrew Jarrett, Dean of the Faculty and William S. Tod Professor of English at Princeton University. Dean Jarrett tells the little-known yet remarkable stories of how an African American poet born in Dayton, Ohio, captivated powerful political leaders across the so-called color line at the turn of the twentieth century. Paul Laurence Dunbar’s legendary accomplishments as a writer so intrigued Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York and, later, president of the United States, that over the years he grew to admire and sought personally to advance the poet’s literary success. And Booker T. Washington, the most famous African American at the time, promoted an industrial ethos of education with which Dunbar alternately agreed and disagreed as an intellectual, but which nonetheless brought them closer together socially. These alliances played key roles in Dunbar’s fascinating access to elite constituencies of readers and sources of political power in postwar America. Gene Andrew Jarrett is Dean of the Faculty and William S. Tod Professor of English at Princeton University. He is the author of Representing the Race: A New Political History of African American Literature and Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature. He is also the coeditor of The Collected Novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar and The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar. For his latest book, Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Life and Times of a Caged Bird, published in June 2022 by Princeton University Press, he has won fellowships from Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the American Council of Learned Societies.