Countee Cullen

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Countee Cullen (born @ 1903 – died January 9, 1946) was a poet and one of the most important figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Little is known of Cullen’s early life, as he was vague about his birthplace and parentage. As a teenager he was adopted by the pastor Reverend Dr. Frederick A. Cullen and his wife Carolyn, of the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church in Harlem. The Reverend Dr. Cullen was active in the NAACP throughout his life, and in that capacity knew both W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson, men who would serve as patriarchal figures of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1928, Cullen would marry DuBois’s only daughter, Yolande, but the marriage was a failure and would end in divorce within two years.

Cullen was something of a prodigy, successful at academics in every school he attended, including DeWitt Clinton High School and New York University and Harvard, and with a precocious genius for poetry which was recognized at an early age. Throughout his career Cullen heavily favored classical verse forms, such as sonnets, and perhaps in part because of this was the most successful crossover artist of the Harlem Renaissance poets. Arguably, this same factor may account for the decline in popularity of his work in the years since, compared to the less traditional style of Langston Hughes.


Further Reading

Cullen Countee, edited and with introduction by Gerald Early (1991) My Souls High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Anchor Books.

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