- June 27: Born in Dayton, Ohio
- Joshua and Matilda Dunbar, Paul's parents, separate and later divorce
- Dunbar writes "An Easter Ode," his first poem
- Dunbar gives his first known public reading, delivering "An Easter Ode" to the congregation at the Eaker Street A. M. E. Church, Dayton, Ohio
- August 16: Joshua Dunbar dies and is later buried at Dayton's National Cemetery
- June 8: Dunbar's first published poem, "Our Martyred Soldiers," appeared in the Dayton Herald
- Attended Dayton Central High School
- While in high school, edited the Dayton Tattler, a short-lived African-American newspaper published by his classmate, Orville Wright. Dunbar also writes for and edits the Central High School High School Times, and serves as the president of the Philomathean Literary Society.
- June 16: With classmate Orville Wright, Dunbar graduated from Dayton Central High School and wrote the class song.
- Got job as elevator operator in the Callahan Building, which he would hold until 1893.
- June 27: Invited to deliver a public reading to the Western Association of Writers, Dayton, OH
- Self-published first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, selling them for $1 to people riding in his elevator
- Attended World's Fair in Chicago and met Frederick Douglass, who employed Dunbar in the Haitian Pavilion.
- Moved to Toledo, Ohio, with help from attorney Charles A. Thatcher and psychiatrist Henry A. Tobey
- April: Dunbar captivated by photograph of Alice Moore published in the Boston Monthly Review and began writing to her
- Published Majors and Minors
- June 27: Review of Majors and Minors written by William Dean Howells was published in Harper's Weekly
- Dunbar obtained a literary agent and moved to New York
- Published Lyrics of Lowly Life, which contains an introduction written by William Dean Howells, editor of Harper's Weekly
- Correspondence between Dunbar and Alice Moore continued throughout the year
- Traveled to England for six-month tour of the London literary circuit
- Employed at Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
- Becomes engaged to Alice Ruth Moore
- March 6: Married Alice Ruth Moore
- Published Folks from Dixie, his first collection of short stories
- Published The Uncalled, his first novel
- Resigned from position at Library of Congress to write full-time
- Published Lyrics of the Hearthside
- Published Poems of Cabin and Field
- Spring: Suffered from severe bout of pneumonia
- Diagnosed with tuberculosis, Dunbar relocates to Colorado for health reasons.
- Published The Strength of Gideon and Other Stories
- Published The Love of Landry
- Published The Fanatics
- Published Candle-Lightin' Time
- Participated in President Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade.
- Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar separate.
- Published The Sport of the Gods, his final novel
- Suffered another severe bout of pneumonia
- Published Lyrics of Love and Laughter
- Published In Old Plantation Days, a collection of short stories
- Published When Malindy Sings
- Returned to Dayton, Ohio to live with his mother
- Published The Heart of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories
- Published Li'l Gal
- Published Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow
- Published Howdy, Honey, Howdy
- Participated in President Theodore Roosevelt's second inaugural parade.
- February 9: Paul Laurence Dunbar died in Dayton, Ohio, and is bured in Woodland Cemetery.