See first documentary film of legendary Dayton poet in Dayton this weekend

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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If you enter Paul Laurence Dunbar’s house today you may think the poet has just stepped out. Dunbar, one of the first nationally known African-American writers, purchased the two-story brick house at 219 N. Summit St. in Dayton in 1904 for his mother, Matilda. The poet had chronic health problems throughout his life and had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A recent documentary film called "Beyond the Mask" explores the life of iconic poet and Dayton legend Paul Laurence Dunbar.

On Saturday, April 1, Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park will host an exclusive showing of the new documentary film. A light assortment of refreshments and will be available at each screening.

"Beyond the Mask" first aired on PBS "Across the Nation" on Feb. 14, in honor of Black History Month.

A cabinet card portrait of author Paul Laurence Dunbar as a young man in 1890. Dunbar was born in Dayton in 1872 to former slaves and was the first African American poet to receive critical acclaim for his work. He died in Dayton Feb. 9, 1906. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION
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A cabinet card portrait of author Paul Laurence Dunbar as a young man in 1890. Dunbar was born in Dayton in 1872 to former slaves and was the first African American poet to receive critical acclaim for his work. He died in Dayton Feb. 9, 1906. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION

Dunbar's most concrete legacies open the film. Students roam the halls of schools that bear his name as the narrator poses the question: Do these students know who Dunbar was? 

>> MORE: Paul Laurence Dunbar's most famous poem

>> MORE: 10 little known facts about Paul Laurence Dunbar

>> MORE: Dayton Walk of Fame: Paul Laurence Dunbar 

He is the son of freed slaves, an ambitious writer who longed to have his name in the literary canon, co-producer and executive producer Dr. Joseph Slade explained.

"Perhaps Dunbar is best known for his dialect poems, but he felt that those works sort of pigeonholed him," Slade said. "He wanted to have his name remembered like (John) Keats' and (Percy Bysshe) Shelley's."

Dunbar is a Dayton native and legendary poet whose works are known nationally. This is the first documentary published about this renowned lyricist and it took the producers eight long years to create.

"Dunbar's writing very much reflects the black experience," Slade said. "It could be said that Dunbar is the progenitor of the poetry slam or rap music."

Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first nationally-known African-American writers, purchased a two-story brick house at 219 N. Summit St. in Dayton in 1904 for his mother, Matilda (left). Dunbar lived in the home until his death in 1906. His mother lived there until her death in 1934. PHOTO: THE OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION
Caption
Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first nationally-known African-American writers, purchased a two-story brick house at 219 N. Summit St. in Dayton in 1904 for his mother, Matilda (left). Dunbar lived in the home until his death in 1906. His mother lived there until her death in 1934. PHOTO: THE OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION

Slade and Frederick Lewis, the writer, director and co-producer, came across several issues trying to obtain images and resources to give viewers the details of Dunbar’s life.

Dunbar lived in the late 1800s. Some of the places where he spent most of his time  — including the Callahan Bank Building where he worked and would pass out his writings to people in the elevator — have since been demolished.

"I spent hundreds of hours searching for the perfect archival images to tell the story," Lewis wrote in response to questions from WOUB. "Overall, I used images from more than 80 archives."

"What I really wanted to develop very carefully was the structure of the documentary-weaving contemporary segments about Dunbar's legacy in with the archival materials that provide historical context and tell his biography," Lewis wrote.

Want to go?

WHERE: Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center auditorium, 16 S. Williams St., Dayton.

COST: This special screening is free for the public to attend.

RSVP: Please send an email to: daav.rsvp@gmail.com with "Film RSVP" in the subject line. Please be sure to include your name, how many people total (including yourself) will be attending and which screening time (1 p.m. or 4 p.m.) you and your guests will be attending. You can also call the park at 937-225-7705.

DURATION: The film is approximately two hours long. After each screening, the film's producers will be on hand to discuss the film and to answer questions from the audience.

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