Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen
Countee Cullen, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1941

Countee Cullen (May 30, 1903[1] – January 9, 1946) was an American poet who was popular during the Harlem Renaissance.



Cullen was an American poet and a leading figure with Langston Hughes in the Harlem Renaissance. This 1920s artistic movement produced the first large body of work in the United States written by African Americans. However, Cullen considered poetry raceless, although his 'The Black Christ' took a racial theme, lynching of a black youth for a crime he did not commit.

Yet Do I Marvel

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must someday die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brains compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

Countee Cullen was very secretive about his life. According to different sources, he was born in Louisville, Kentucky or Baltimore, Maryland. Cullen was possibly abandoned by his mother, and reared by a woman named Mrs. Porter, who was probably his paternal grandmother. Cullen once said that he was born in New York City, but may not have meant it literally. Porter brought young Countee to Harlem when he was nine. She died in 1918. At the age of 15, Cullen was adopted unofficially by the Reverend F.A. Cullen, minister of Salem Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the largest congregations of Harlem. Later Reverend Cullen became the head of the Harlem chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His real mother did not contact him until he became famous in the 1920s.

As a schoolboy, Cullen won a city-wide poetry contest and saw his winning stanzas widely reprinted. With the help of Reverend Cullen, he attended the prestigious De Witt Clinton High School in Manhattan. After graduating, he entered New York University (NYU), where his works attracted critical attention. Cullen's first collection of poems, Color (1925), was published in the same year he graduated from NYU. Written in a careful, traditional style, the work celebrated black beauty and deplored the effects of racism. The book included "Heritage" and "Incident", probably his most famous poems. "Yet Do I Marvel", about racial identity and injustice, showed the influence of the literary expression of William Wordsworth and William Blake, but its subject was far from the world of their Romantic sonnets. The poet accepts that there is God, and "God is good, well-meaning, kind", but he finds a contradiction of his own plight in a racist society: he is black and a poet.

Cullen's Color was a landmark of the Harlem Renaissance. The movement was centered in the cosmopolitan community of Harlem, in New York City. During the 1920s, a fresh generation of writers emerged, although a few were Harlem-born. Other leading figures included Alain Locke (The New Negro, 1925), James Weldon Johnson (Black Manhattan, 1930), Claude McKay (Home to Harlem, 1928), Langston Hughes (The Weary Blues, 1926), Zora Neale Hurston (Jonah's Gourd Vine, 1934), Wallace Thurman (Harlem: A Melodrama of Negro Life, 1929), Jean Toomer (Cane, 1923) and Arna Bontemps (Black Thunder, 1935). The movement was accelerated by grants and scholarships and supported by such white writers as Carl Van Vechten.

A brilliant student, Cullen graduated from New York University Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Harvard, earning his masters degree in 1926. He worked as assistant editor for Opportunity magazine, where his column, "The Dark Tower", increased his literary reputation. Cullen's poetry collections The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1927) and Copper Sun (1927) explored similar themes as Color, but they were not so well received. Cullen's Guggenheim Fellowship of 1928 enabled him to study and write abroad. He met Nina Yolande Du Bois, daughter of W.E.B. DuBois, the leading black intellectual. At that time Yolande was involved romantically with a popular band leader. Between the years 1928 and 1934, Cullen travelled back and forth between France and the United States.

By 1929 Cullen had published four volumes of poetry. The title poem of The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929) was criticized for the use of Christian religious imagery - Cullen compared the lynching of a black man to the crucification of Jesus.

Cullen married Yolanda DuBois in April 1928. The marriage was the social event of the decade, but the marriage did not fare well, and he divorced in 1930. It is widely said that Cullen was a homosexual, and his relationship with Harold Jackman was a significant factor in the divorce. Jackman was a teacher whom Van Vechten had used as a model in his novel Nigger Heaven (1926). In 1940, Cullen married Ida Mae Robertson, whom he had known for ten years.

As well as writing books himself, Cullen promoted the work of other black writers. But in the late 1920s Cullen's reputation as a poet waned. In 1932 appeared his only novel, One Way to Heaven, a social comedy of lower-class blacks and the bourgeoisie in New York City. From 1934 until the end of his life, he taught English, French, and creative writing at Frederick Douglass Junior High School in New York City. During this period, he also wrote two works for young readers, The Lost Zoo (1940), poems about the animals who perished in the Flood, and My Lives and How I Lost Them, an autobiography of his cat. In the last years of his life, Cullen wrote mostly for the theatre. He worked with Arna Bontemps to adapt his 1931 novel, God Sends Sunday into St. Louis Woman (1946, publ. 1971) for the musical stage. Its score was composed by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, both white. The Broadway musical, set in poor black neighborhood in St. Louis, was criticized by black intellectuals for creating a negative image of black Americans. Cullen also translated the Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides, which was published in 1935 as The Medea and Some Poems with a collection of sonnets and short lyrics.



  • "I Have a Rendezvous With Life" (1920s, poem)
  • Color
Harper & brothers, me 1925; Ayer, 1993, ISBN 9780881431551 [includes the poems "Incident," "Near White," "Heritage," and others], illustrations by Charles Cullen
  • Copper Sun, Harper & brothers, 1927
  • The Ballad of the Brown Girl Harper & Brothers, 1927, illustrations by Charles Cullen
  • The Black Christ and Other Poems, Harper & brothers, 1929, illustrations by Charles Cullen
  • Tableau (1925)
  • One way to heaven, Harper & brothers, 1932
  • Any Human to Another (1934)
  • The Medea and Some Other Poems (1935)
  • The lost zoo, Harper & brothers, 1940, Illustrations by Charles Sebree
  • My lives and how I lost them, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942
  • On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1947
  • My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (1991)
  • Countee Cullen: Collected Poems, Library of America, 2011, ISBN 9781598530834


  • One Way to Heaven (1931)
  • The Lost Zoo (1940)
  • My Lives and How I Lost Them (1942)


  • St. Louis Woman (1946)

See also

Kevin Brown (author)


  1. ^ "Countee Cullen (1903-1946)". Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

Other references

  • Yenser, Thomas (editor), Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America, Who's Who in Colored America, Brooklyn, New York, 1930-1931-1932 (Third Edition)

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Countee Cullen — Countee Cullen, fotografiert von Carl van Vechten, 1941 Countée LeRoy Porter (Countée Cullen), z. T. auch ohne Akzent geschrieben, (* 30. Mai 1903; † 9. Januar 1946 in New York City) war ein US amerikanischer Autor und führender Dichter der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Countee Cullen — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Countee Cullen, fotografiado por Carl Van Vechten, 1941 Countee Cullen (¿Louisville?, Estados Unidos; 30 de marzo de 1903 Nueva York; 9 de enero de 1946) fue un …   Wikipedia Español

  • Countee Cullen — (30 mai 1903–9 janvier 1946) était un poète afro américain, adopté par le révérend Frederick Ashbury Cullen. Il fut élevé dans le quartier de Harlem à New York et reçut une éducation méthodiste. Il fut diplômé de la New York University en 1923 et …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Countee Cullen — (30 de Marzo de 1903 9 de enero de 1946) fue un poeta estadounidense, uno de los más valorados del Renacimiento de Harlem. Sus poemas más famosos son Yet Do I Marvel y Incident , el segundo describe un viaje de la infancia a Baltimore estropeado… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Cullen (disambiguation) — Cullen may refer to:*Cullen, the Royal Burgh of Cullen, a burgh in Moray, Scotland, on the North Sea coast, east of Elgin *Cullen College of Engineering, an academic college at the University of Houston *Cullen, Louisiana, USA *Cullen, Cork, a… …   Wikipedia

  • Cullen — bezeichnet eine: Cullen Pflanzengattung der Schmetterlingsblütler (Faboideae) Cullen ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Charles Cullen (* 1960), US amerikanischer Serienmörder Christian Cullen (* 1976), neuseeländischer Rugbyspieler… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cullen (surname) — Cullen is a surname of Scottish or Irish origin. Cullen is a surname of Scottish origin. Cullen (Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Cuilinn) is a village and former royal burgh in Moray, Scotland, on the North Sea coast 20 miles (32 km) east of Elgin. The… …   Wikipedia

  • Cullen, Countée — Cul·len (kŭlʹən), Countée. 1903 1946. American poet whose collections Colors (1926) and Copper Sun (1927) established him as a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. * * * orig. Countee Porter born May 30, 1903, Louisville, Ky.?, U.S. died Jan …   Universalium

  • Cullen — /kul euhn/, n. Countee /kown tay , tee /, 1903 46, U.S. poet. * * * (as used in expressions) Bryant William Cullen Cullen Countee Cullen William * * * …   Universalium

  • Cullen — (as used in expressions) Bryant, William Cullen Cullen, Countee Cullen, William …   Enciclopedia Universal

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