Journal II


The first entry of Dunbar-Nelson’s second reading journal is dated July 29, 1916, ten days after her forty-first birthday. At this point, there is little way of knowing whether the eight-year gap between the first two journals was a result of a dormancy in the practice, or if there were other reading journals that were either lost or perhaps discarded over time. The beginning of her second journal coincided with the start of her third marriage (to Robert J. Nelson). This journal spans the largest number of years of the three, covering over sixteen years of her reading activity. The first years covered in the journal reveal her interest in war fiction. The entries for these years further reveal how she was far from an uninterested citizen when it came to the First World War and its impact upon the nation. At the onset of the 1920s—the years in which she was working with her husband to turn their Wilmington Advocate newspaper into a successful venture—her reading interests were captured, at least peripherally, in the one surviving artifact of this herculean struggle. The artifact is that of an extant article found only on a flong fragment from their press operation. The article highlights her study of Spanish history, colonial American history, and an increasing amount of African American history and literature that formed the foundation of her inaugural “Romances of Negro History” column. In the same way, her political organizing and social justice work coincided with readings of greater amounts of polemical texts. And her years working at the Marshallton School was paired with a continued study in education, juvenile delinquency studies and child psychology. Dunbar-Nelson’s reading, however, was not entirely devoted to her scholarship during this period. During these years, we find her reading increasing amounts of genre fiction, chiefly detective stories, mystery novels, and crime fiction. Furthermore, this journal was kept during a period when Dunbar-Nelson’s demand in the lecture circuit led her to make numerous trips to different parts of the country extending primarily to Mid-Atlantic, New England, and the Mid-West. Her life-changing trip to California—an excursion that proved to be a source of lasting inspiration in her life—had also taken place during this period. It was the only time, albeit a brief one, that the journaling ceased.

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