On November 30, 1901, an African American newspaper published a favorable review of a recently released edition of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poetry called Candle-Lightin' Time.
"Candle-Lightin' Time," by Paul Laurence Dunbar, is the title of one of the most profusely and artistically illustrated books of poems of the year. The binding is also a work of art, enhanced by leaf and flower designs. The decorations, by Margaret Armstrong, combined with the illustrations and binding, make a poem in themselves. Dunbar's songs have lost none of their old time music, and there is in this publication a distinct testimony that he is carrying his work "up" rather than "on."
"The Book World." The Appeal (St. Paul, Minnesota). November 30, 1901. Page 2.
The review takes a subtle jab at William Dean Howells, the leading literary critic in the country. Howells enthusiastically introduced Paul to the American reading public in 1896, but a few years later he said that Paul's poetry had simply gone "on rather than up."
Paul Dunbar has won popularity as well as recognition. In the verse that he has written since his earliest volume was published, he has carried his work on rather than up; but if he went no higher than the mark he struck at first he would still have made good his claim to our attention, and would have become inalienably a part of our literary history.
"The New Poetry," by William Dean Howells. The North American Review (New York, New York). May, 1899. Page 590.
Candle-Lightin' Time contained nine poems, eight of which were in Black dialect, accompanied by photographs taken by members of the camera club at the Hampton Institute, a Virginia school that provided job skills training to African Americans (although the photographers were white). Paul mentioned the book to his literary agent and speculated about whether it might be sold in England.
There is to be a book of mine out this Fall, a collection of eight or ten dialect verses with illustrations by the Hampton Camera Club. I did not think of offering it to you for English sale because I believe that they would hardly care for anything of that kind. It is to be a Christmas book and would sell at six shillings over there, but I do not believe that I am well enough known for a book to go as well as did a former one of the same kind here in America. The illustrations, however, are magnificent, all being taken from life in the South. If you think there is any chance in it, let me know at once and I will try to get you the material and write Dodd and Mead about the illustrations.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Paul R. Reynolds, August 17, 1901. Paul Laurence Dunbar collection, New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Microfilm edition, Roll 3).
Paul's publishing firm, Dodd, Mead & Co., placed a full-page advertisement in a trade magazine promoting its latest editions, including Candle-Lightin' Time. The book sold for $1.50 and its release in the fall was targeted at the Christmas gift market.
Candle-Lightin' Time: A volume of poetry by the well-known colored writer, much in the line of his Poems of Cabin and Field, which were so successful. Particular interest attaches to the illustrations, which are reproductions of photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club.
Dodd, Mead & Co. advertisement. The Publishers' Weekly (New York, New York). November 2, 1901. Page 930.
In later years, Dodd published more gift books full of Paul's poetry illustrated by photographs. A volume called Li'l' Gal was released shortly before Christmas in 1904. It contained 22 dialect poems along with pictures of Black people portraying the characters in the verses. The photos were taken by Leigh Richmond Miner, a white art instructor at the Hampton Institute. Like other books in the series, Li'l' Gal received high praise from reviewers.
A handsome Christmas book of poetry with illustrations that come near being the climax of art in photography is "Li'l' Gal," by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Mr. Dunbar's illustrator is Leigh Richmond Miner of the Hampton Institute, and the pictures as well as the poems seem to glow with a gay pride of race which is the best possible promise for the future of Paul Laurence Dunbar's people.
"By a Negro Poet." The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York). December 24, 1904. Page 10.
This is the fourth volume of Mr. Dunbar's poems to be illustrated by members of the Hampton Institute Camera Club, the pictures in this case being made by Mr. Miner, who has succeeded admirably in his work. All show sympathetic understanding of Negro character and a decided artistic sense not surprising when one knows that the illustrator was for a number of years the art teacher at Hampton Institute.
"Book Reviews: Li'l' Gal." The Southern Workman (Hampton, Virginia). December 1904. Pages 692 - 693.