Paul Laurence Dunbar (June 27, 1872 – February 9, 1906) was an American poet, novelist, and playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in Dayton, Ohio, to parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky before the American Civil War, Dunbar started to write as a child and was president of his high school's literary society. He published his first poems at the age of 16 in a Dayton newspaper.
Much of his more popular work in his lifetime was written in the Negro dialect associated with the antebellum South. His work was praised by William Dean Howells, a leading critic associated with the Harper's Weekly, and Dunbar was one of the first African-American writers to establish a national reputation. He wrote the lyrics for the musical comedy, In Dahomey (1903), the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway; the musical also toured in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Dunbar also wrote in conventional English in other poetry and novels; since the late 20th century, scholars have become more interested in these other works. Suffering from tuberculosis, Dunbar died at the age of 33.