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Melvin Tolson – Harlem Renaissance Writer Who Reaches Out to Liberia
Melvin Beaunorus Tolson is an African-American modernist poet, educator, columnist, and playwright whose work has focused on the African-American experience and includes several poetic stories. He lived during the Harlem Renaissance and, although he did not participate, his work reflects his influences.
Tolson’s year at Columbia University from 1931 to 1932 on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship placed him in Harlem at the end of the Harlem Renaissance, for which he became friends with many of the writers associated with it, notably Langston Hughes. , and was inspired to develop his poetics. talent.
In many of his poems, therefore, Tolson would revisit the atmosphere of Harlem in the 1930s. Inspired by the achievements of people like Hughes around him, Tolson decided to contribute to the proud legacy that black writers were establishing. .
Your previous collection quote and gallery reflects the early influence of Walt Whitman, Edgar Lee Masters, and Langston Hughes, thus highlighting Tolson’s proletarian convictions and optimistic spirit. This later became evident in his interest in issues of black dignity as well as in his elaboration of multiracial diversity in America… This must have led the West African Republic of Liberia to declare him their poet laureate in 1947. .
Born in 1900 in Moberly, Missouri, Melvin Tolson was the son of a Methodist minister and an Afro-Greek mother who was a seamstress. Therefore, he grew up in a Methodist Episcopal household with his father, a reverend who had taught himself classical languages. He moved through a circuit of small Midwestern towns with his parents between various churches in the Missouri and Iowa area until he finally settled in the Kansas City area. He lived in a home of contradictions. His father, who had an eighth-grade education, was skeptical of the value of a college education, but still instilled in his son a strong desire for knowledge.
As a child he liked to paint, but was forced to give it up because of his mother’s disapproval of a bohemian artist who wanted to take him to Paris. So turning to poetry, he found a fitting outlet for his creativity. At the age of 14 he published his first poem “The Wreck of the Titanic” in the local Oskaloosa, Iowa newspaper. Next, in Kansas City, in 1911, he was elected senior poet.
He graduated from Lincoln High School in Kansas City in 1919 and enrolled at Fisk University, but transferred to Lincoln University that year for financial reasons. There he met Ruth Southall and married her on January 29, 1922. Tolson graduated with honors in 1924 and then moved to Marshall, Texas, to teach speech and English at Wiley College.
While at Wiley, Tolson developed a series of epoch-making extracurricular activities, including coaching the junior varsity football team, running the drama club, co-founding the Black Intercollegiate Southern Speech and Dramatic Arts Association, as well as organizing the Wiley Forensic Society, an award-winning debate club that built a national reputation by breaking the color barrier across the country and achieving unprecedented success, such as when they competed against the University of Southern California on their 1935 tour in the that Oprah Winfrey – produced film The great polemicists, is based, released December 25, 2007 (although in the film they discuss Harvard, not USC). The film was directed by Denzel Washington.
Tolson mentored many students at Wiley, encouraging them not only to be complete, but also to always stand up for their rights, even though that was a rather controversial position in the American South in the early to mid-20th century.
Beginning in the 1930s, Tolson began writing poetry. He took a leave of absence to earn a master’s degree in comparative literature from Columbia University in 1930-31, but did not complete it until 1940 by writing a thesis on the Harlem Renaissance and writing the first book of poems by him. harlem portrait gallery poems that appeared in Arts Quarterly, Modern Quarterly Y modern monthly.
In 1941, dark symphonyoften considered his greatest work winning first place in a 1939 national poetry contest, it was published in Atlantic Monthly. dark symphony compare and contrast African-American and European-American history.
In 1944 Tolson published his first collection of poetry, date with americawhat includes dark symphony produced at the request of the publisher of Atlantic Monthly upon moving to Dodd Mead. The book quickly went through three editions from 1944 onwards.
The Washington Tribune hired Tolson to write a weekly column, Cabbage and Caviarin which he attacked the class pretensions and lack of racial pride of the black middle class after leaving his teaching position at Wiley in the late 1940s.
Tolson began teaching at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma, in 1947. He also served as a playwright and director of the Dust Bowl Theater there. One of his students there, Nathan Hare, the pioneer of black studies, later became the founding editor of the black scholar
Another important work of his is Script for the Republic of Liberia (1953). Written in the form of an epic poem, it is perhaps the poet’s most ambitious work. It was commissioned that year and completed in 1953 for Liberia’s centennial of 1956.
the one with eight sections Script for the Republic of Liberia marks the intersection of several disparate threads: modernist stylistics superimposed on an English Pindaric ode to an African political moment by an African-American artist. Although it has a black theme, it could be said that this poem is also about the world of men. And this subject is not simply stated, it is embodied in a rich and complex language and realized in terms of the poetic imagination. It gives an initial clue to its meaning by allusive indirection. But it marks Tolson’s growing poetic ambition through a lengthy, complex and allusive in some places and filled with surreal dream visions in others. However, it remains a poem little read by a black.
That year, Liberia declared Tolson its Poet Laureate, who was subsequently admitted to Liberia’s Knight Order of the Order of the Star of Africa. The 50s and 90s brought him increasing successes. He won poetry prizes and honorary doctorates. He later got a professorship at the Tuskegee Institute. He won the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters. He also entered local politics and was elected mayor of the City of Langston for four consecutive terms from 1954 to 1960.
In 1965, Tolson’s last work to appear in his lifetime, the long poem Harlem Gallery, was published. This last poem consists of several sections, each beginning with a letter of the Greek alphabet and concentrating on exploring African-American life. It is as a whole a drastic departure from his early work.
In 1965, Tolson was appointed to a two-year term at Tuskegee Institute, where he was an Avalon Poet. But he didn’t live long enough to finish his term here. He because he died in the middle of his appointment after being operated on for cancer in Dallas Texas, on August 29, 1966. He was buried in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
The poems he wrote in New York were published posthumously in 1979 as A Harlem Portrait Gallery in a mixture of various styles as well as in free verse. The racially diverse and culturally rich community featured in A Harlem Portrait Gallery may be based on or intended to be Marshall, Texas. His poems have been characterized by their allusive, complex, modernist style and their long poetic sequences.
A man of impressive intellect, Tolson created poetry that was “funny, witty, humorous, slapstick, rude, cruel, bitter, and hilarious,” as Karl Shapiro had said of the Harlem Gallery. Langston Hughes described him as “no intellectuals. The students revere and love him. The boys in the cotton fields like him. The cow beaters get it… he’s a great talker.” In New York, Tolson met such important figures as the literary critic and editor V.F.Calverton, who described him as “a vivid and brilliant writer who achieves his best effects by understatement rather than exaggeration, and who captures in a line or a stanza the that most of his contemporaries have failed”. to capture in pages or volumes”.
Tolson’s fearless attitude toward controversy and his forceful defense of his religious and social views drew not only fire, but also an invitation to publish in the Pittsburgh Post Office.
Lift up every voice and sing (1899)
God’s Trombones: Seven (1927)
selected poems (1936)
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