February 25 - An Exercise in Creative Writing

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On February 25, 1899, Alice Moore Dunbar in West Medford, Massachusetts, wrote to her husband Paul Laurence Dunbar in Nashville, describing how she fabricated the contents of an article and submitted it to a newspaper.  Both Paul and Alice had been assigned to write reports about a conference at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  Booker T. Washington, the principal of Tuskegee, made arrangements for the Dunbars to travel together by train.

Your letter to Mr. Dunbar came this morning.  He is at present in New York.  I thank you, for him, for your kindness in the matter of railroad expenses to Tuskegee.  Mr. Clement of the Transcript has been kind enough to ask me for two articles about the conference.

Alice Moore Dunbar to Booker T. Washington, February 13, 1899.  Booker T. Washington Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.

Alice referred to Edward Henry Clement, who was editor of the Boston Evening Transcript and a strong supporter of Booker T. Washington.  However, as the date of the conference approached, Alice's sister Leila became very ill.  Instead of going to Alabama, Alice went to her family's home in Massachusetts.  She asked Paul to send her reports from Tuskegee so she could still write the article.

I am so glad I came.  Leila's been quite ill:  pneumonia, kidney trouble and a nervous give-down.  The doctor says she was literally snatched from the grave.  Later in the day I went in to Boston and saw Mr. Clement.  He was so delightful and pleasant and said if I was not able to get down to Tuskegee to get what I could from you and "write something, anything.  I've expected and depended upon you."  We had a lovely little chat.  He said he couldn't imagine what I wanted to go to Tuskegee anyhow for it was very unpleasant traveling.  I do hope that you will enjoy your stay in Tuskegee and that all will go well with you.  Write to me soon and help me some in my article, if you can and it won't bother you too much.

Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 19, 1899.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

The Conference is over and I am just jotting down a few lines as I send you a copy of my article and some notes.  I am so glad that Mr. Clement took your article.  The notes are a little badly written but I think you can decipher them.  I am sorry that Leila is still so sick, and wish I could do something.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, February 22, 1899.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Despite Paul's efforts to help, Alice decided to write the article using nothing but her own imagination.  The lengthy story was published in the Transcript a short while later.

I concluded not to wait for your letter to write my article, for I was afraid Clement might squeal "too late," so sitting by Leila's bedside for two evenings I delved into my imagination and evolved 2600 words, glowingly descriptive of the whole affair and sent it in yesterday.  I put in a few reports about the storm damage, the bad roads caused by the snow melting and lied around generally.  Lord, I hope it'll go.

Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 25, 1899.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Special Correspondence of the Transcript
Tuskegee, Ala., March 11.


After the two conferences, the Farmers' and the Workers', are over, the school settles down to its wonted look.  Slowly, little by little, the visitors leave.  Now a group of wagons go together, now a solitary cart, with its inevitable yoke of oxen;  there a cluster of earnest-talking, loud-voiced men tramping it down the road to Chehaw, until the campus is clear save for the occasional passage of a student or a class to some duty.

"The Black Farmers After Their Conference at Tuskegee," by Alice Moore Dunbar.  Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts).  March 18, 1899.