A collection of critical essays about the life and work of Paul Lawrence Dunbar -- a onetime black elevator operator who wrote four novels, several collections of poetry, and edited newspapers for a brief decade before he drifted into alcoholism and an early death. Although his editorials seem, in retrospect, to have been written from a position of ""black arrogance,"" in his performances he played the happy-go-lucky Sambo which at the time (turn of the century) was society's conception of his race. He was attracted, perhaps overmuch, to the relative wealth and esteem he gained from his successful poetry readings -- due mainly to the novelty of a Negro writing ""serious"" poems and to his excellent voice. In recent years he has been criticized for his dialect poems, and literarily occupies a subordinate place to his friend James Weldon Johnson. These essays originated in a Dunbar symposium sponsored by the University of California at Irvine -- apparently the first academic gathering on a black writer in which scholars of both races participated. This is as good a reason for publishing a critical anthology as any, and better than some: if Amy Lowell, why not Dunbar? Not for everybody.