Paul Laurence Dunbar, bait hive success, an apology, and wonderful reader reaction: newsletter, May 12, 2023

May 12, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball, beekeeping, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, May 12, 2023.

Sometimes you have to simply accept responsibility.

That happened to me last week when my website crashed and burned. The technician employed by my hosting service, the guy who took my call, was a terribly nice fellow, but it did not take him long (about 30 seconds, as I remember) to diagnose the problem. Many parts of my site had been neglected and needed updating. That neglect then caused other problems.

“It’s like you have been driving your car and you’ve run out of oil,” he said cheerfully.

That can’t be, I thought immediately. Surely not. This has to be a technical error that someone else has caused. My defenses were going up.

But then I stopped (fortunately before I opened my big mouth) and thought, “He’s right! I have been neglecting the site. The oil light has been on, and I have just ignored it.”

So, that, my dear readers, is why for some of you, last week’s newsletter was mostly gobbledegook. It was my fault. (If you need to look at last week’s newsletter, it’s here on the newly oiled website.) As the sign says, I apologize for any inconvenience. But unlike the sign, I really mean it. I’ll try to not let it happen again.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,953 subscribers and had a 31.7 percent open rate; 8 persons unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


Paul Laurence Dunbar

The life of Paul Laurence Dunbar was altogether too short, but his impact as a poet, composer, short story writer, and novelist, was astonishing during his lifetime, and his influence has lasted long after his death.

Maya Angelou has credited Dunbar with providing her the inspiration to pursue her “writing ambition.”

Dunbar was born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio. His mother had been a slave in Kentucky, and had been freed at the end of the Civil War. His father was an escaped slave, who, during the Civil War, volunteered for the famous 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first two Black units to serve during the war.

Dunbar wrote his first poem when he was six years old, and when he was a teenager he was the only African-American student at Dayton’s Central High School. There he met and befriended Orville Wright, and they remained good friends for the rest of his life. 

When he was only 18 years old, he wrote and edited The Tattler, Dayton’s first weekly African-American newspaper. It was printed by a small company that was owned by the Wright brothers.

After high school, Dunbar had ambitions to go to law school, but his family lacked the means to support him. Instead, he took a job as an elevator operator, but he continued to write poetry. In 1892, he asked the Wright brothers to publish a book of his poetry, but they did not have the printing facilities that would produce a book. They suggested instead that he contact the United Brethren Publishing House, and in 1893 his first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, was published. Dunbar paid for part of the publication cost himself, but he quickly recovered those costs by selling copies of his book personally, often to passengers on his elevator.

The book caught the attention of a number of writers and critics, including James Whitcomb Riley, known popularly, as “the Hoosier poet,” and Dunbar achieved enough fame to make him the nation’s first nationally known African-American poet.

The editor and critic, William Dean Howells published a favorable review of Dunbar’s second book, Majors and Minors, in Harper’s Weekly. Howells’ review firmly established Dunbar as a leading voice in modern American literature.

Despite consistent ill health, Dunbar was a prolific writer. He published a dozen books of poetry, four books of short stories, four novels, a play, and the lyrics for a musical that in 1903 became the first all African-American production on Broadway. 

Overall, his novels were not particularly well-received by critics. They did break new ground, however, because Dunbar wrote about white characters and white society. He was the first African-American writer to take such a bold step.

Dunbar married Alice Ruth Moore, a teacher and a poet from New Orleans. In 1898 the couple collaborated in their work as poets, but the marriage ended unhappily in separation. (They were never divorced.) 

In 1900, Dunbar was diagnosed with tuberculosis by his doctors. His doctors recommended alcohol as a treatment, but Dunbar unfortunately became dependent on this drug.

In 1904, he returned to Dayton to be with his mother. He died in 1906 at the age of 33. Dunbar often wrote in dialect. His work in standard English demonstrated his depth and skill as a poet. Here are two examples:

The Debt

This is the debt I pay

Just for one riotous day,

Years of regret and grief,

Sorrow without relief.


Pay it I will to the end —

Until the grave, my friend,

Gives me a true release —

Gives me the clasp of peace.


Slight was the thing I bought,

Small was the debt I thought,

Poor was the loan at best —

God! but the interest!


The Corn-Stalk Fiddle

When the corn’s all cut and the bright stalks shine

   Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;

When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,

   And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;

Then its heigho fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,

For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.


And you take a stalk that is straight and long,

   With an expert eye to its worthy points,

And you think of the bubbling strains of song

   That are bound between its pithy joints—

Then you cut out strings, with a bridge in the middle,

With a corn-stalk bow for a corn-stalk fiddle.


Then the strains that grow as you draw the bow

   O’er the yielding strings with a practiced hand!

And the music’s flow never loud but low

   Is the concert note of a fairy band.

Oh, your dainty songs are a misty riddle

To the simple sweets of the corn-stalk fiddle.


When the eve comes on and our work is done

   And the sun drops down with a tender glance,

With their hearts all prime for the harmless fun,

   Come the neighbor girls for the evening’s dance,

And they wait for the well-known twist and twiddle,

More time than tune—from the corn-stalk fiddle.


Then brother Jabez takes the bow,

   While Ned stands off with Susan Bland,

Then Henry stops by Milly Snow

   And John takes Nellie Jones’s hand,

While I pair off with Mandy Biddle,

And scrape, scrape, scrape goes the corn-stalk fiddle.


“Salute your partners,” comes the call,

   “All join hands and circle round,”

“Grand train back,” and “Balance all,”

   Footsteps lightly spurn the ground,

“Take your lady and balance down the middle”

To the merry strains of the corn-stalk fiddle.


So the night goes on and the dance is o’er,

   And the merry girls are homeward gone,   

But I see it all in my sleep once more,

   And I dream till the very break of dawn

Of an impish dance on a red-hot griddle

To the screech and scrape of a corn-stalk fiddle.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


First success for the bait hives

Several weeks ago, I wrote about how I was trying something different with my beekeeping practices this spring. One of those differences is that I was constructing “bait hives” to try to lure swarms of bees.

I am happy to report my first success with trying out the bait hives. Late last week, I noticed several bees going in and out of one of the bait boxes that I had put up on some of the land in and around our farm. My hope was that the bees that I was seeing were “scout bees” from some nearby swarm.

Scout bees are sent out by a swarm to try to find possible new locations for the swarm to set up their colony. The scouts look for some cavity, often the hollow of a tree, that has a small and defendable entranceway. When the scouts find such a place, they fly inside the cavity and take measurements. They try to figure out if the cavity is indeed large enough to be habitable. They do not want a cavity that is either too large or too small.

It may sound odd to say that the bees “take measurements” of the space inside the cavity. But this is exactly what they do. Thomas Seeley, a professor at Cornell University, and one of the leading bee researchers in the world, has conducted several experiments to observe this behavior. The scout bees fly around inside the cavity in a certain pattern to make sure it is the appropriate size.

Just as important as the space inside the cavity is the size of the entranceway. The hole that is too large will be difficult for the colony to defend. The optimum size is a hole that is about one inch in diameter.

That is why the bait box needs to be constructed in a certain way. It needs to have just the right amount of space inside—not too much and not too little—and it needs to have an entrance hole that the bees believe they can defend.

In addition to constructing these boxes, the beekeeper who wants to attract a swarm sprinkles a few drops of lemongrass oil inside the box and on the entranceway to attract the scouts. Why this particular odor is attractive is not clear, but it does seem to work.

So, after three or four weeks of waiting, the weather in this area of the country, which has been cooler than usual, turned warm enough for the bees to begin producing swarms. And I was fortunate enough that one of these swarms has selected one of the bait boxes that I constructed as their new home.

My next step has been to transfer these bees into a regular box hive. That was a bit of an adventure, and I will share that with you next week.


Group giveaways for May 

Kill the Quarterback, Point Spread, and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

Page-turning mysteries and thrillers

Mystery and thriller season (through May 21)

Spine-chilling reads

Historical crime and mystery giveaway

KDP promo (May 9 – May 29)

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Phyllis P.: Jim, I recently decided to re-memorize stuff that I once could easily recite as a child. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” was one of those pieces, along with the Gettysburg Address, “Annabel Lee,” numerous things by Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes. Thanks for the reminder.

Eric S.: Kurt Vonnegut’s quote (cited in BrainFood) about the importance of practicing art redefines “success” in an unconventional way. In other words, forget about money or fame and just paint, write, dance, etc., to become who you are. A marvelous concept!

F.M.: Thanks for the update on your bee family.

I just wanted to tell you that I love your quote for today. I am a recovering alcoholic and this month we are reading about the 5th Step. The 5th Step is where I share with another alcoholic (usually my sponsor, or a counselor/pastor/priest) the exact nature of my wrongs – all the good and bad things I did when I was drinking. And then my sponsor helps me figure out how I can let go of my past and make amends if possible. My sponsor is able to “separate the chaff from the grain” and help me see the good parts of myself and the character defects I need to change.

Here’s the quote:

Oh, the comfort—the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person—having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away. Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, poet and novelist (1826-1887)

Vince V.: Your comments about “taking attendance” and “showing up” struck a nerve, but I would add a caveat to Mr. Parish’s admonitions. There are two ways of showing up — physically and mentally. Unfortunately, I can recall many classes, meetings, events, lunches, dinners, etc. where my body was there but my mind was elsewhere. A true “showing up” must include body and spirit.

 And for Tennyson fans, a “league” is about a mile and a half, so his three repeats amounted to four and a half miles, which is quite a long way for an army to travel in battle. In other words, the Light Brigade showed up.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Going downtown

Best quote of the week:

Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he’s potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and to kill as many as he can lay his hands on in the name of his tribe or his God. Benjamin Spock, pediatrician and author (1903-1998)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The Great Defender, a population explosion, and a newspaper article that turned into a famous poem:newsletter, May 5, 2023



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