Countee Cullen

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Countee Cullen, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1941
Countee Cullen, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1941

Countee Cullen (May 30, 1903–January 9, 1946) was an African-American Romantic poet and an active participant in the Harlem Renaissance.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Bibliography
    • 2.1 Poetry
    • 2.2 Prose
    • 2.3 Drama
  • 3 References
    • 3.1 Other references
  • 4 External links


Countee Cullen was born with the name Countee LeRoy Porter and was abandoned by his mother at birth. He was raised by his grandmother, Mrs. Porter, but it is unclear where the location of his birth was in fact located because he was very secretive about his life to the community. Sources state he was either born in Louisville, Kentucky, or Baltimore.

In 1918, Mrs. Porter died. Cullen was subsequently 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 attempted to contact Cullen, and would not attempt to do so until sometime in the 1920s, after he'd 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 graduating, Cullen attended New York University and joined the fraternity Phi Beta Kappa. He once again worked for the school’s magazine as the poetry editor. He is also known for winning the Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Prize. During his undergraduate career, he published poetry in The Crisis, under W. E. B. Du Bois, and Opportunity of the National Urban League, winning prizes from both publications. He also had poems in Harper's, Century Magazine, and Poetry. In 1925, he graduated from NYU and published his first volume of verse, Color.

Cullen was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.

Cullen was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a period when the African American artist community began to flourish, primarily in urban centers.

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree he attended Harvard to obtain his Master’s.

In April of 1928, Cullen married Nina Yolande Du Bois, daughter of the famous W. E. B. Du Bois. After only two months, their marriage fell apart when Cullen and his best man left for Europe leaving his wife behind. Nina divorced him two years later, saying that he told her that he was sexually attracted to men.[2] In 1928, the poet traveled to France as a Guggenheim Fellow.

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

On January 9, 1946, Cullen unexpectedly died of a uremic poisoning and high blood pressure. 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”.



  • Color (1925)
  • Copper Sun (1927)
  • The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1928)
  • The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929)
  • 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. ^ Gerard Early. About Countee Cullen's Life and Career. Retrieved on 2007-02-01.

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 biography and example of poetry. Part of a series of poets.
  • Page on Cullen at
  • Page on Cullen at AfriGeneas Writers Forum
  • Page on Cullen at Pegasos
  • Page on Cullen at Harvard Square Library website
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