September 8 - Sign on the Dotted Line

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On September 8, 1896, Paul Laurence Dunbar signed a contract with the New York firm Dodd, Mead & Company to publish his volume of poetry Lyrics of Lowly Life.  The agreement included a cash advance of $400, as well as a royalty based on the number of books sold.

The party of the second part agrees to pay to the party of the first part the sum of Four Hundred dollars ($400.00) as an advance and on account of royalties hereafter to be earned and credited to the party of the first part.

Lyrics of Lowly Life contract, September 8, 1896.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).

Paul was 25 years old and earning $4 a week as an elevator operator in Dayton.  He wrote to his mother Matilda about the large payment he expected to receive (although he told her it was $200 instead of $400).  Paul said his book would be "republished," since 94 out of the 105 poems in Lyrics of Lowly Life had already appeared in his two previous volumes.

My book is to be republished.  I am to receive $200 at once and a royalty of fifteen percent on the first 10,000.  How is this for high?  Will be home soon.  All continues to go well and I hope soon to get a start at last.  Keep up heart, the night has been long but the day is dawning.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Matilda Dunbar, August 26, 1896.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Paul Laurence Dunbar has been for several years the elevator boy in a public building in Dayton, O., and, in fact, still retains that place.  His recent visit to New York was marked by one important event in his life.  Dunbar has never had any more money than the salary paid him by his employers, and despite the attention which his literary work has attracted recently, his books have yielded him no profit.  But two weeks ago, the publishing firm which is to bring out his new book of poems, paid Mr. Dunbar $400, and never in his life before had he had so much money.  Four $100 bills were given him in the morning.  That night he went back to Dayton to see his mother and return to the elevator.

"Our Leading Poet."  The Cleveland Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio).  September 26, 1896.  Page 1.

Dodd, Mead & Company sent royalty reports to Paul every six months for the rest of his life (and after his death, his estate continued to receive them).  The publisher's first royalty statement indicated that Lyrics of Lowly Life had earned over $200, but Paul did not yet receive any payment due to the cash advance.


Feb 1st 1897

Mr Paul Laurence Dunbar
Dayton Ohio

In account with Dodd, Mead & Company

By royalty to date

Lyrics Lowly Life 209.25

To Cash Paid 400

Yet to be earned 190.75

Royalty statement from Dodd, Mead & Company, February 1, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).