- 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 buried at Dayton's National Cemetery.
- June 8: Dunbar's first published poem, "Our Martyred Soldiers," appeared in the Dayton Herald.
- Attends Central High School in Dayton, where he edits the school newspaper and serves as president of the literary society.
- Edits the Dayton Tattler, a short-lived African-American newspaper published by his high school classmate, Orville Wright.
- June 16: Dunbar graduates from Central High School.
- Works 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, Ohio.
- Self-publishes first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, selling them for $1 to people riding in his elevator.
- Attends World's Fair in Chicago and met Frederick Douglass, who employed Dunbar in the Haitian Pavilion.
- Moves 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.
- Publishes Majors and Minors.
- June 27: Review of Majors and Minors written by William Dean Howells was published in Harper's Weekly.
- Dunbar obtains a literary agent and moves to New York.
- Publishes 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.
- Travels 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.
- Publishes Folks from Dixie, his first collection of short stories.
- Publishes his first novel, The Uncalled.
- Resigns from position at Library of Congress to write full-time.
- Publishes Lyrics of the Hearthside.
- Publishes Poems of Cabin and Field.
- Dunbar relocates to Colorado for health reasons after being diagnosed with tuberculosis.
- Publishes The Strength of Gideon and Other Stories and The Love of Landry.
- Publishes The Fanatics and Candle-Lightin' Time.
- Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar separate.
- Publishes The Sport of the Gods, his final novel
- Publishes Lyrics of Love and Laughter.
- Publishes In Old Plantation Days, a collection of short stories.
- Publishes When Malindy Sings.
- Returns to Dayton, Ohio to live with his mother.
- Publishes The Heart of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories.
- Publishes Li'l Gal.
- Publishes Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow.
- Publishes Howdy, Honey, Howdy.
- Publishes his last book of poems, Joggin' Erlong.
- February 9: Paul Laurence Dunbar dies in Dayton, Ohio, and is buried in Woodland Cemetery.