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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Countee Cullen

Born in 1903, Countee Cullen was the adopted son of Frederick A. Cullen, an AME minister, and his wife, Carolyn. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in New York and then New York University, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After earning his MA at Harvard in 1926, he returned to New York, where he worked as a teacher.

Although he wrote and published works representing practically every genre of creative literature, Countee Cullen was essentially a poet. He had started writing poetry in high school and was but 22 years old when he published his first and most important book of poetry, Color (1925). He quickly became one of the best-known writers among the young group of artists whose works gave vitality to the fabled New Negro Renaissance. Single poems of his appeared in American Mercury, Bookman, Century, Harper’s, Nation, Palms, Survey Graphic, and Vanity Fair; his awards and prizes for poetry included those won in contests sponsored by Crisis, Opportunity, and Poetry magazines. And because he was literary editor for Opportunity magazine—one of the two foremost black periodicals of the era—he exercised significant influence over which other young authors had their works appear in print in the mid-20s.

Primarily because he used conventional literary forms in writing poetry, casual critics have seldom thought of Cullen as a social protest writer. Yet he was, and much of his work illustrates his disdain for American racial prejudice. In tone, Cullen’s poetry is marked by intensity of emotion and, thematically, by a persistent concern with the ironies and frustrations of the African American experience, especially from a religious perspective.

Walter C. Daniel
University of Missouri at Columbia

In the Heath Anthology
From the Dark Tower (1924)
Incident (1924)
Simon the Cyrenian Speaks (1924)
Heritage (1925)
Pagan Prayer (1925)
Yet Do I Marvel (1925)
Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song (1934)

Other Works
Color (1925)
Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets (1927)
Copper Sun (1927)
The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1927)
The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929)
One Way to Heaven (1932)
The Medea (1935)
On These I Stand (1947)

Cultural Objects
TEXT fileCoverage of the Scottsboro Boys' Trials

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Poems from the Survey Graphic Harlem Number (March 1925).

Countee Cullen
A collection of several Cullen poems.

Modern American Poetry
A chronology, biography, criticism, scans of book jackets, links, and more.

Secondary Sources

Houston A. Baker, Jr., A Many-Colored Coat of Dreams: The Poetry of Countee Cullen, 1974

Gerald Early, ed., My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance, 1991

Margaret Perry, A Bio-bibliography of Countee Cullen, 1903-1946, 1971

Alan R. Shucard, Countee Cullen, 1984