Melvin Tolson Essay

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Nate Perry Perry 1 Dr. Robert Stevenson 1/17/11 AAA 201-02 Melvin Tolson Born in Moberly, Missouri, on February 6, 1898, Melvin Beaunorus Tolson was one of the most important African American educators and modernist poets of the 20th century. Tolson’s prowess as an educator was so great in fact, that it led Langston Hughes to declare him “the most famous Negro Professor in the Southwest.” After beginning his college career at Fisk University, Tolson later transferred and completed his bachelor’s degree at Lincoln University in 1924. Following graduation, Tolson moved to Marshall, Texas where he accepted a position as an English and Speech instructor at Wiley College. Tolson also served as the football coach and play director, but is most noted for his work as the speech and debate coach. He led Wiley’s speech and debate team through a ten year period between 1929 and 1939 in which it never lost a single competition. In 1935 his team took home the ultimate prize, a National Championship over the University of Southern California (USC). Tolson took a yearlong leave of absence from his career in 1930-31 to further his education and pursue a master’s degree at Columbia University in New York City. Tolson returned to Wiley in 1931, but did not complete his Master’s degree from Columbia until 1940. Following the interviews he conducted with major artists of the Harlem Renaissance for his Master’s, Tolson was inspired to write poetry exploring the African American urban experience. Over time, his poetry began to appear in African American newspapers and eventually his first book of poetry, Rendezvous with America, was published in 1944. In 1947, Tolson left Wiley and accepted a position at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. He was also appointed the Poet Laureate of Liberia, which became the inspiration for his second poetry book, Libretto for the Republic

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