GIVE US EACH DAY: The Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson by Alice Dunbar-Nelson

GIVE US EACH DAY: The Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson

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A significant life, scrappily skimmed. Alice Dunbar-Nelson (I 875-1935) was the widow of black poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar (d. 1906), and a writer and activist in her own fight. Her Diary, however, is both fragmentary and cursory. It begins late in 192 l, when Dunbar-Nelson was living in Wilmington (Del.) and co-editing the Wilmington Advocate with journalist husband Robert (""Bobbo"") Nelson; then it breaks off without explanation, to resume in 1926 and continue through 193 I. Within these segments, too much is bare summary: e.g., ""Slept. Ate. Went to movies."" This is a loss, for Dunbar-Nelson's activities ranged wide. She was present at a historic meeting with Harding at which prominent blacks presented a 50-thousand-signature petition requesting clemency for black soldiers arrested after a racial incident. (""He would look into the matter as soon as possible. We understood, of course, that other things might have to take precedence. . ."") She occasionally hobnobbed with luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance, whose names are listed in passing (""Reached Fifth Avenue restaurant 8:50. . . Scared to go in. . . Welcomed effusively by Jim [James Weldon Johnson], Countee Cullen, Carl Van Vechten""). Struggling for years to piece together a living from writing, teaching, and speaking, she is delighted when in 1928 her work for the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee becomes a paid position, allowing her to leave her job at the Girls Industrial School: ""And so--adieu to the Barn and the Morons."" By 1929 ill health limits Dunbar-Nelson's political activism; her thoughts take a sensual turn as she becomes sexually involved with two women, one a newspaperwoman (her ""little blue dream of loveliness""), the other an artist. Throughout, Dunbar-Nelson seems largely content to record events, saving her reflections and finer writing for the poems, articles, and essays that appeared in a range of publications. Given the interest of the source, a disappointment.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Norton