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Herbert Martin portraitUTC celebration of Paul Laurence Dunbar begins with performance by Herbert Martin

One hundred years after Paul Laurence Dunbar’s death, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is sponsoring a year-long celebration of his life and work.  The initial event occurs October 4 when Herbert Martin, an internationally acclaimed scholar and interpreter of the works of Dunbar, will bring his one-man performance to Chattanooga.

Herbert Martin’s performance will be held in the Roland Hayes Concert Hall at UTC on Wednesday, October 4, at 7:30 p.m.  The event is sponsored by the Departments of English, Music, and Art and is free to the public.
Through dramatic portrayals of Dunbar’s work, Martin has captivated audiences for more than three decades.  A poet himself, with six published volumes, Martin is widely acknowledged as the foremost interpreter of Dunbar’s poetry.  He actually dresses in the role of Dunbar and performs, rather than reads, a wide variety of Dunbar’s work.

Growing up in Alabama, Martin says that he felt the spirit of Dunbar hovering over him, but in a rather negative way.  His physical resemblance to America’s first nationally acclaimed African American poet was often noted, and teachers frequently asked him to read Dunbar’s poetry aloud.  Martin grew irritated at the comparisons and was thus inclined to turn away from Dunbar.

When he accepted a position at the University of Dayton in 1970, however, he found himself in Dunbar’s native city, and he began to study Dunbar.  His attitude toward Dunbar changed rapidly, and he soon became a champion of Dunbar’s poetry.  In 1972 he organized a Dunbar festival that attracted top African-American poets.
That same year he also began performing his one man show, expanding on his earlier experiences reading in coffee houses.  Martin presents both the works written in standard English and those in the dialect of the black community of Dunbar’s day.  He even sings some of Dunbar’s verses, emphasizing the musical nature of the poetry.  He also captures the humor inherent in much of Dunbar’s work, emphasizing that Dunbar had the ability to see humor in nearly everything.

Martin has performed numerous times for schools, reading clubs, the general public, Black Entertainment Television, cable television, and even a Fortune 500 company.  He is also an accomplished scholar, teacher, poet, and musician.  A biography entitled Herbert Woodward Martin and the African American Tradition in Poetry traces his career as a writer and performer.

The Mellon Poetry Prize, an honorary doctorate from the University of Dayton, a Fulbright Scholarship, the 2002 Governor’s Award for the Arts (Ohio), and the Mark Twain Award for Creative Writing are among the numerous awards given to Martin.

September 22, 2006

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