Biography of Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen was a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of writing, art, and thought based in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York in the 1920s. Cullen was born on 30 May 1903. However, no one quite knows where he was born (some say Baltimore, others Kentucky, and others New York). He was adopted by a Methodist reverend and spent most of his childhood in Harlem. He received a world-class education, learning Latin, Greek, and French by the time he was in high school. He then entered New York University in 1922, at which point he started publishing in many important magazines of the period. In 1925, he began an MA at Harvard University in 1925 to study English. That same year he published his most famous book of poetry, Color.

In 1928 he married Yolande Du Bois, daughter of the famous African-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois. Their marriage was short-lived. Many scholars think that Cullen was gay, but the evidence regarding his sexuality is inconclusive. Cullen married Ida Mae Roberson in 1940 and lived with her until his death in 1946 at the age of forty-two. In 1928 Cullen won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship and left Harlem to travel and live in Europe, most extensively in Paris. In 1929 Cullen published The Black Christ and Other Poems, but none of his later work received the same acclaim as Color. His only novel, One Way to Heaven (1932), was also panned by critics. He was involved in theater, adapting a famous novel into a Broadway play, and translated Greek tragedy. From 1934 until his death in 1946 he taught English, French, and creative writing as a high school teacher in New York.


Study Guides on Works by Countee Cullen

Almost always listed among the greatest poems to come out of the Harlem Renaissance and very often singled out as the ultimate achievement of that cultural efflorescence, Countee Cullen’s “Heritage” was originally published in Survey Magazine on...

“Incident” is one of the most famous poems from Countee Cullen’s first and most famous poetry collections: Color (1925). Cullen was a rather traditional poet. His main influence was the nineteenth-century English Romantic poet John Keats. He was...

“Yet Do I Marvel” was published in Countee Cullen’s first and most famous poetry collection, Color (1925). At the time, he was just twenty-two years old. Alongside “Heritage” and “Incident,” this poem is one of Cullen's best-known. As a perfectly...