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Countee Cullen, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1941

Countee Cullen (March 30, 1903–January 9, 1946) was an American Romantic poet. Cullen was one of the leading African American poets of his time, associated with the generation of black poets of the Harlem Renaissance.



Cullen was born with the names Countee LeRoy Porter and was believed to be abandoned by his parents at birth (although this is somewhat unknown). He was raised by his grandmother, Mrs. Porter. Cullen was secretive about his life, so it is unclear where he was actually born; some scholars claim he was born in Louisville, Kentucky, or Baltimore. Later in his life, Cullen said he was born in New York City. It is known that he attended Townsend Harris High School for one year, and then transferred to DeWitt Clinton High School in New York and received special honors in Latin studies in 1922.

In 1918, Mrs. Porter died. Cullen was adopted by Reverend Frederick Ashbury Cullen, minister at Salem Methodist Episcopal Church in Harlem,[1] and thus Cullen was raised a Methodist. Throughout his unstable childhood his birth mother never contacted Cullen, and did not attempt to do so until sometime in the 1920s, after he had become famous.

Cullen won many poetry contests from a very young age and often had his winning work reprinted. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, mainly consisting of all white, male students. He became Vice President of his class during his senior year, was also involved in the school magazine as an editor, and was affiliated with the Arista Honor Society.

After completing his secondary education, Cullen attended New York University. While an undergraduate, he published works in various literary magazines, including Harper's, Century Magazine, and Poetry. Also, his exceptional writing faculties were acknowledged with prizes from The Crisis, edited by W. E. B. Du Bois, and Opportunity of the National Urban League. He graduated in 1925 as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and was also initiated into Phi Beta Kappa honors society. Soon afterwards, he produced his first volume entitled "Color" and pursued graduate studies at Harvard University.

The grave of Countee Cullen in Woodlawn Cemetery

In April 1928, Cullen married Nina Yolande Du Bois, daughter of the famous W. E. B. Du Bois. Two months after the wedding, Cullen left for Europe with his father and Harold Jackman; his wife followed after a month.[2] He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1928.

Nina Yolande Du Bois divorced Cullen two years later, saying that he told her that he was sexually attracted to men.[3]

In 1940, he married Ida Mae Roberson and they enjoyed a contented marriage.

On January 9, 1946, Cullen died unexpectedly of uremic poisoning and complications from high blood pressure.[4] After his death, for a few years, Cullen was honored as the most celebrated African-American writer. A collection of some of his best work was also arranged in On These I Stand.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Countee Cullen on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[5]




  • "I Have a Rendezvous With Life" (1920s, poem)
  • Color (1925)[includes the poems "Incident," "Near White," "Heritage," and others]
  • Copper Sun (1927)
  • The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1928)
  • The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929)
  • Tableau (1925)
  • Any Human to Another (1934)
  • The Medea and Some Other Poems (1935)
  • On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen (1947)
  • My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (1991)


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


  • St. Louis Woman (1946)


  1. ^ "Countee Cullen (1903-1946)". Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 
  2. ^ Mason Stokes. Strange Fruits. Transition. Accessed 2008-04-08.
  3. ^ Gerard Early. "About Countee Cullen's Life and Career". Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  4. ^ Emmanuel Nelson, African American Authors, 1745–1945. Greenwood, 2000. ISBN 0313309108.
  5. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.

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) Countee Cullen's Secret Revealed by Miracle Book by Shirley P. Washington

External links


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