Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, 50 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Erica Fretwell

Committee Members

Bret Benjamin


African American authors, American literature, African American oral tradition, Oral tradition in literature

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Arts and Humanities


James Weldon Johnson and Melvin B. Tolson are pivotal figures of the early 20th century. They represent a fundamental question that has been and is indeed still in the minds of African American authors: What is a Black author? African American authorship necessarily involves the challenge of forging a literary identity in the face of a society structurally and temperamentally predisposed to marginalize and dismiss them. In their creative and scholarly works, Johnson and Tolson methodically dissect Black authorship, looking both to the past and to their present situation as they strive to imagine a future for African American literary identity, in all its depth and value. Yet despite the parallels in their objects and methods, there remains a divide between Johnson and Tolson wide enough that they are rarely placed in direct conversation with each other. I intend to bridge this gap by addressing the necessary comparisons between the works of these two authors.