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Countee Cullen


Countee Cullen was born Countee LeRoy Porter on May 30, 1903, likely in Louisville, Kentucky. He attended De Witt Clinton High School in New York City and began writing poetry at the age of fourteen. When he was fifteen, he was unofficially adopted by F. A. Cullen, the minister of a Methodist church in Harlem.

Cullen entered New York University after high school. Around the same time, his poems were published in The Crisis, under the leadership of W. E. B. Du Bois, and Opportunity, a magazine of the National Urban League. He was soon after published in Harper's, the Century Magazine, and Poetry. He won several awards for his poem, "Ballad of the Brown Girl," and graduated from New York University in 1925. That same year, he published his first volume of verse, Color (Harper & Bros., 1925), and was admitted to Harvard University, where he completed an MA in English.

Cullen went on to publish several more poetry collections, including On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen (Harper & Bros., 1947), The Black Christ and Other Poems (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1929), and Copper Sun (Harper & Bros., 1927). An imaginative lyric poet, he wrote in the tradition of Keats and Shelley and was resistant to the new poetic techniques of the Modernists; his work demonstrates the range of subjects and aesthetic interests that poets of the Harlem Renaissance addressed.

The poet Major Jackson writes, "Cullen was celebrated as the golden exemplar of a campaign by black political and cultural leaders who sought to engineer a new image of black people in America. Yet he was also targeted as an aesthete, and his expressed desire to be read as 'a poet and not a Negro poet' was increasingly condemned as representative of black aristocratic self-hatred, and worse, a veiled longing 'to be white.'"

Cullen taught in New York City public schools for twelve years beginning in 1934. He died on January 9, 1946.

Selected Bibliography


My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (Doubleday, 1991)
On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen (Harper & Bros., 1947)
The Lost Zoo (Harper & Bros., 1940)
The Medea and Some Other Poems (Harper & Bros., 1935)
The Black Christ and Other Poems (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1929)
The Ballad of the Brown Girl Harper & Bros., 1927)
Copper Sun (Harper & Bros., 1927)
Color (Harper & Bros., 1925)


My Lives and How I Lost Them (Harper & Bros., 1942)
One Way to Heaven (Harper & Bros., 1932)

Countee Cullen
Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten

By This Poet


I Have a Rendezvous With Life

I have a rendezvous with Life,
In days I hope will come,
Ere youth has sped, and strength of mind,
Ere voices sweet grow dumb.
I have a rendezvous with Life,
When Spring's first heralds hum.
Sure some would cry it's better far
To crown their days with sleep
Than face the road, the wind and rain,
To heed the calling deep.
Though wet nor blow nor space I fear,
Yet fear I deeply, too,
Lest Death should meet and claim me ere
I keep Life's rendezvous.

If You Should Go

Love, leave me like the light,
The gently passing day;
We would not know, but for the night,
When it has slipped away.

So many hopes have fled,
Have left me but the name
Of what they were. When love is dead,
Go thou, beloved, the same.

Go quietly; a dream
When done, should leave no trace
That it has lived, except a gleam
Across the dreamer’s face.

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