Tolson, Melvin B. (1898–1966) By Capogna, Frank
Melvin Beaunorus Tolson was a poet, journalist, and teacher whose literary work examines the conditions for black life and art from the African diaspora through the throes of the Civil Rights Movement in his contemporary America. Although most of his major poetry volumes were published following the Second World War, Tolson thought of his work as a continuation of the modernist project in an African American idiom: he would pronounce his intentions just so, to ‘visit a land unvisited by Mr. Eliot’ (qtd in Dove 1999, xi). His poetry looks thematically, aesthetically, and critically at the institutional heritage of high modernism and other dominant Anglo-European cultural forms in order to locate a place for African American artistic production within—rather than in a space apart from—otherwise hierarchical high art cultures in the first half of the twentieth century.