Considered one of the foremost African-American poets of his generation, Dodson published collections such as The Confession Stone: Song Cycles and The Harlem Book of the Dead. Over the course of his career, he also penned two autobiographical novels and six plays.
After graduating from Bates College, he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama. He subsequently headed Howard University's drama department for three decades.
He was deeply influenced by the work of fellow American writers William Stanley Braithwaite and W. H. Auden.
Before becoming open about his homosexual orientation, he was engaged to a woman named Priscilla Heath. Later in his life, he may have been romantically involved with the journalist and arts critic Hilton Als.
He was born fourteen years after New York-based poet Langston Hughes and was considered part of the African-American literary movement that followed Hughes' Harlem Renaissance.