Biography of Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen was a key figure in 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). Brought to New York at age nine by his paternal grandmother, he spent most of his childhood in Harlem, where, at age 15, he was adopted by a Methodist reverend named Frederick Cullen. He received a world-class education at DeWitt Clinton High School, learning Latin, Greek, and French. 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 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 works 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

"From the Dark Tower" is a poem by American author Countee Cullen detailing the struggle of Black individuals to receive recognition for their work. Originally published in 1927, the poem appeared in Cullen's second collection, Copper Sun. 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...

"Saturday's Child" is a poem by American writer Countee Cullen about economic and racial inequality. Originally published in 1925, the poem appeared in Cullen's first collection, Color. Cullen claimed to be born in Louisville, Kentucky, though...

Simon the Cyrenian Speaks is a poem by American poet Countee Cullen about the titular speaker from the bible scripture. It originally appeared in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse edited by Harriet Monroe in May 1924. Cullen nurtured the idea that Simon...

"Tableau" is a poem by American writer Countee Cullen describing an interracial romance between two men. Originally published in 1925, the poem appeared in Cullen's first poetry collection, Color. Cullen was born in 1903, supposedly in Louisville,...

“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...