“Take the Mask Off”

Reconceptualising Paul Laurence Dunbar as a Biographical Subject


  • Paul Young




On March 10, 1895, a young woman named Maud Clark wrote a letter to writer, performer, and activist Paul Laurence Dunbar in which she told him to “take the mask off.” This article takes this phrase as its analytical point of departure, seeking to reconceptualise, retheorise, and reinvestigate Dunbar’s biography through Clark’s words and the symbol of the mask. Repositioning Dunbar’s biography within the political, aesthetic, and psychological realities of his world, the article takes the symbol of Paul Laurence Dunbar in new directions, recognising the limitations of traditional biography and instead working toward a new and multifarious understanding of the man and his many masks.