An articulate and penetrating poet and exceptional academic ability, Countee Cullen became the most famous black writer in the United States in the 1920s. In addition to immediately praising critics, Cullen’s poems have also found devout followers in Harlem halls and literary circles. Inspired by the shape of the European sonnet works from classical antiquity and biblical paintings, Cullen sought to create a poetry that transcends the boundaries of the race. “If I want to be a poet,” Cullen told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1924, “I’m going to be a poet, not a black poet.” Although he cannot escape the reality of race in life or art, Cullen Universal Vision has produced poetry imbued with passion and inner beauty, anxious to pursue the expression of a black artist in the modern western world. He died on January 9, 1946.
Background and early life
Countee Leroy Porter was born May 30, 1903, in Louisville, Kentucky; Some sources suggest that he was born in New York or Baltimore, Maryland. Raised by Mrs. Porter, a woman who is said to be her grandmother, Countee moved to New York for about nine years and settled in an apartment in Harlem, not far from the Methodist Episcopal Church of Salem. When Mrs. Porter died in 1918, a member of the Salem community called on the pastor of the church, the Reverend Frederick Asbury Cullen, to adopt him. Impressed by the decency of the boy, the Reverend and Mrs. Frederick Cullen took counter and gave him a room in the peaceful parish of Salem.
Although the adoption was never being legalized, Cullen is deeply committed to his new parents. Feeling physical and emotional security, he quickly adapted to the quiet religious atmosphere of “Mother Salem.” At his adopted father’s library, Cullen began to explore the world of books and literature. Although he spent his early years studying rigorously, Cullen enjoyed summer family trips to Maryland and New Jersey.
On February 4, 1918, Cullen enrolled at Dewitt Clinton High School, a school for children of great prestige, predominantly white. Cullen, a senior student (he was elected a member of the school’s honorary society, Arista), worked for the Magpie school literary magazine and eventually became associate editor. He studied Latin and read the works of the English poets Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, and the African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Cullen’s poem on poets, published in 1918 in Magpie, was created in homage to the great American and English poets.Another high school
From 1918 to 1921, Cullen attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he edited a school newspaper and a literary magazine and won a city-wide poetry competition. He then went to New York University, graduated from Phi Beta Kappa in 1925, and won the Witter Bynner Prize for poetry. The same year, Cullen published his first acclaimed poetic volume Color.
He obtained his master’s degree from Harvard University in 1926 and then joined the editorial board of Opportunity, writing a column “Dark Tower,” which was a review of African American literature.
Marriage and socialization
Cullen was influenced by the works of John Keats (who was Cullen’s favorite poet), Percy Bysshe Shelley, and AE Housman, and as such, drew on the writing and structures of traditional European verses. However, ‘he incorporated ideas of African American racial background and experience into much of his work.
By publishing additional volumes of the song, Copper Sun and The Ballad of the Brown Girl (both in 1927), Cullen was seen as the leading light of Harlem’s Renaissance. In the spring of 1928, he married Yolande Du Bois, the daughter of the famous intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, in an extravagant ceremony that brought together African-American nobility. However, the marriage was short-lived, and the two divorced in 1930 when Cullen returned to the United States after traveling to France on a Guggenheim scholarship.
Novelist and playwright
Cullen’s poetry production declined when it started in the 1930s, and in 1934 he resumed teaching French at Frederick Douglass Junior High School.
He also worked in various literary forms, writing the satirical novel One Road to Heaven (1932). And in 1935, he became the first African-American writer of the 20th century to translate and publish the classic work Medea de Eurípides.
The poet was also the children’s author and playwright, as seen in his play The Third Quarter of July and the dramatic adaptation One Way to Heaven titled Heavenly My Home. He also collaborated with Arn Bontemps to adapt Bontemps’ novel, God Sends Sunday, to the stage, with the play for which he made his Broadway debut in March 1946 in The St. Louisa, with Pearl Bailey.
Death and Legacy
Cullen did not live to see the project come to fruition. He died on January 9, 1946, of uremia and complications from high blood pressure. He is survived by his second wife, Ida Mae Roberson.
1947 A posthumous collection of Cullen’s poetry, “I’m About These: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Earl Cullen,” is published. His legacy also includes public schools named after the poet, as well as the 135th Branch library on Harlem Street, which has been renamed Countee Cullen Library. After a period of delay, the researchers paid more attention to the life and writings of Cullen, and in 2012, a biography of Cullen and Bid Him Sing, by Charles Molesworth, was published.