Melvin B. Tolson, 1898-1966
Plain Talk and Poetic Prophecy
Robert M. Farnsworth
288 pages
6 x 9

Formats available:
Hardcover   $55.00 SH
ISBN: 978-0-8262-0433-2

About the Book

One of the outstanding poets of the twentieth century, Melvin B. Tolson is best known for Rendezvous with America, Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, Harlem Gallery, and A Gallery of Harlem Portraits. Although these works have received critical acclaim, they are not yet widely read.

In this biography of Tolson, Robert M. Farnsworth has gathered much new information on the poet from family papers, from reminiscences of friends, acquaintances, and relatives, and from scholarly analyses of his work to create a clarifying and insightful account of the poet’s life. The events and preoccupations of Tolson’s life in turn provide a useful context for examining Tolson’s major poems. Moreover, Farnsworth has determined the chronology of most of Tolson’s writings, many of which were before either unknown or known only through obscure references.

During his lifetime, however, Tolson the man was well known within the American black community as a speaker and activist who identified economics as the underlying basis of racism. He expressed his opinions freely and forcefully in a column he wrote seven years for the Washington Tribune, “Caviar and Cabbage.” Both in his poetry and in his prose Tolson wrote in a voice blending those of the scholar, the preacher, and the poet. Embracing a modernist aesthetic in his later poetry, he challenged his readers with a demanding task, which has unfortunately proved too formidable for all but a few. Farnsworth’s book will do much to bring Tolson and his works the attention and understanding they so richly deserve.


Robert M. Farnsworth is Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is the editor of two works by Tolson, A Gallery of Harlem Portraits (University of Missouri Press, 1979) and Caviar and Cabbage: Selected Columns by Melvin B. Tolson from the “Washington Tribune,” 1937-1944 (University of Missouri Press, 1982), and the author of numerous articles and poems published in scholarly journals.


"This book succeeds in bringing Tolson to life. It is a full narrative ride, featuring Tolson the family man, the fast talker, the radical, the author with ambition. And the analyses of the poems—and of the occasional plays and prose works—are sensible, balanced, sometimes piercing."—Choice


Socialist Joy in the Writing of Langston Hughes
Jonathan Scott

Caviar and Cabbage
Edited & Intro by Robert M. Farnsworth

A Gallery of Harlem Portraits
Melvin B. Tolson, Edited & Afterword by Robert M. Farnsworth

From Vagabond to Journalist
Robert M. Farnsworth

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