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Definition: Cullen, Countee from Chambers Biographical Dictionary


US poet

Born in New York City, the son of a Methodist Episcopal minister, he studied at New York University and Harvard. He began his literary career with Color (1925), a book of poems in which classical models such as the sonnet are used with considerable effect, and he became a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He published several subsequent volumes of verse and a novel, One Way to Heaven (1932), and collaborated with Arna Bontemps to write the play St Louis Woman (1946).

  • Perry, M A Bio-Bibliography (1971).

Summary Article: Countee Cullen (1903–1946)
From African American Almanac

Born Countee Porter on May 30, 1903, in Baltimore, he was orphaned at an early age and adopted by the Reverend Frederick Cullen, pastor of New York's Salem Methodist Church. At New York University, Cullen won Phi Beta Kappa honors and was awarded the Witter Bynner Poetry Prize. In 1925, while still a student at New York University, Cullen completed Color, a volume of poetry that received the Harmon Foundation's first gold medal for literature two years later.

In 1926 he earned his M.A. at Harvard and a year later finished both The Ballad of the Brown Girl and Copper Sun. This was followed in 1929 by The Black Christ, written during a two-year sojourn in France on a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Upon his return to New York City, Cullen began a teaching career in the public school system. During this period, he also produced One Way to Heaven (1932); The Medea and Other Poems (1935); The Lost Zoo (1940); and My Lives and How I Lost Them (1942, 1971).

In 1947, a year after his death, Cullen's own selections of his best work were collected in a volume published under the title On These I Stand.

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