Modern Black American Poets and Dramatists

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Owen Dodson

1914-1983

OWEN VINCENT DODSON was born on November 28, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York, the ninth child of Nathaniel Dodson, a journalist, and Sarah Elizabeth Goode Dodson.His father, who was director of the National Negro Press Association, introduced Dodson to such distinguished black American writers as W. E. B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, while from his mother, a social worker and devout churchgoer, he gained a religious sensitivity that would infuse both his life and his work.

During his years at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, Dodson began the study of poetry. He matriculated to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he received a B.A. in 1936. For a large portion of his college years Dodson wrote one sonnet a week, and he had already published his poetry in Phylon, Opportunity, and other journals prior to his graduation.

Dodson received a fellowship to attend the Yale Drama School in 1936. Two years later his play Divine Comedy (published in 1974 in Black Theatre, U.S.A., edited by James V. Hatch and Ted Shine) was staged there, later receiving the Maxwell Anderson Award for verse drama. Another play, The Garden of Time, is an adaptation of the Greek legend of Medea in which some of the action is set in South Carolina just after the Civil War.

Dodson received his M.F.A. from Yale in 1939. The previous year he had begun teaching speech and drama at Spelman College in Atlanta, where he remained until 1941. He then taught briefly at the Hampton Institute in Virginia before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in late 1942. Dodson was urged by his commander, Daniel Armstrong, to write plays on naval history for the benefit of black seamen; two of these were published in the prestigious journal Theatre Arts. One of Dodson's most successful dramatic productions was New World A-Coming, a pageant performed at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1944.

Dodson's first collection of poetry was Powerful Long Ladder, published in 1946. It was immediately hailed as a notable contribution to the black American poetic tradition, but Dodson turned his attention to drama,

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