Countee Cullen

(1903–1946)

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Countee Cullen (1903–1946) was one of the leading African American poets of the Harlem Renaissance. 

Green, black, and white, cover of "Color" by Countee Cullen.

Color by Countee Cullen, 1925. 

2010.1.277

© 1925, 1952 Harper & Brothers/Ida Cullen.

After finishing college at New York University and beginning a master’s degree at Harvard, Cullen published his first volume of poetry, Color. During the next four years, Cullen published his own poems and edited poetry by other African Americans. In 1928, he was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship to write poetry in France. In 1932, Cullen published his only novel, One Way To Heaven, a social comedy of the disparity between lower-class African Americans and the elite of New York City. Although he often focused on racial ideas and discrimination, Cullen was never considered radical and was often criticized by the African American community for being too “safe.”

Countee Cullen was very secretive about his life. Most of his friends, including Alain Locke, Harold Jackman, Carl Van Vechten, and Leland Pettit were openly gay. It was later confirmed by his first wife that the reason for their divorce was because Cullen was sexually attracted to men. Cullen’s poetry is often taught in the context of queer culture today.

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