New Negro Renaissance Digital Institute – Washington University in St. Louis – page 38 tradition was certainly something the African-American elite abhorred and wanted to erase in its strivings toward racial uplift. Without specific linguistic scholarship, no critics explained or promoted Dunbar’s genius with the vernacular (in addition to Dunbar’s other poetry that he hoped to become better known for), and no one celebrated the nature of his dialect’s re- inventiveness in his lifetime. Additionally, though Dunbar wrote dialect and standard poetry, ironically both white and black readers unfairly “typed” his vernacular poetry. Both groups categorized it as a colorful way to represent happy and carefree black people; and while whites were satisfied with this image, black people found offense in the language. Without perspective, it becomes easy to skew Dunbar’s dialect poetry. Simply looking at a vernacular poem, dismissing it without reading it because of its nonstandard appearance, we miss experiencing the mastery and genius of the work. Dunbar honors the folk in “The Party” by telling and giving voice to the traditions of the people. In this way, he demonstrates that there is hope for all African-Americans, and this hope was rooted in the American South. The rich, evocative, descriptive language—the dialect—is palpable; and Dunbar’s use of it speaks to the same hope of redefinition for African-Americans during the New Negro Movement. In this way, Dunbar is a precursor to the activities of the Renaissance. And it remains highly ironic that in a movement wanting to establish a rooted past, leaders rejected the roots Dunbar beautifully and faithfully established. These leaders came to view the representation of the dialect, first popularized by Chandler Harris, as too entrenched, never appreciating or acknowledging Dunbar’s successful challenge to this tradition. Often, when I assign Dunbar’s poems (choosing from among favorites such as “The Party,” “When Malindy Sings,” “In The Mornin,’” and “Negro Love Song”), I instruct students to translate them to standard English dialect. Students do this quickly and readily, evidence that the language patterns are still recognizable and familiar. This easy identification with the language mirrors an easy identification with the speaker. The speaker and his sentiments are not foreign, even today. The students are quick to note, however, that the standard English versions they create lack the rhythm and song-like quality of the original poems. The tone changes, as does the meaning. Dunbar’s use of dialect captures the authentic spirit and energy of Southern folk, and “The Party” remains as one of the best representations of reclaimed vernacular. (Vickie Adamson) Hughes, Langston. “Advertisement For The Waldorf-Astoria.” Quotesandpoems.com.
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