Cullen, Countee 1903–1946

views updated Jun 27 2018

Countee Cullen 19031946

Writer, editor, and educator

At a Glance

The Poet Must Sing

Harlems Poet Scholar

Poet in the Classroom

Selected Writings


A prodigal poet of articulate manner and exceptional academic ability, Countee Cullen emerged in the 1920s as the most famous black writer in America. Apart from winning the immediate praise of critics, Cullens poems found a devout following within Harlems literary salons and bohemian circles. Inspired by European sonnet form, works of classical antiquity, and Biblical imagery, Cullen sought to create poetry that transcended the boundaries of race. If I am going to be a poet at all, stated Cullen in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1924, I am going to be Poet and not Negro Poet. Although unable to escape the reality of race in life or art, Cullens universal vision yielded poetry imbued with both inner torment and beauty, which addressed the black artists search for expression in the modern Western World.

Countee Leroy Porter was born on May 30, 1903, in Louisville, Kentucky; some sources suggest that he was born in New York City or Baltimore, Maryland. Raised by Mrs. Porter, a woman thought to be his grandmother, Countee moved to New York City around the age of nine, taking up residence in a Harlem apartment not far from the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church. When Mrs. Porter died in 1918, a member of Salems congregation urged the churchs pastor, Reverend Frederick Asbury Cullen, to adopt Countee. Impressed by the precocious and well-mannered child, the Reverend and Mrs. Frederick Cullen adopted Countee and gave him a room in Salems quiet 14-room parsonage.

Although the adoption was never legalized, Cullen became deeply devoted to his new parents. Provided with a sense of physical and emotional security, he quickly adapted to the quiet religious atmosphere of Mother Salem. In his adoptive fathers library, Cullen began to explore the world of books and literature. Though his early years were spent in rigorous study, Cullen enjoyed the familys summer trips to Maryland and New Jersey.

On February 4, 1918, Cullen enrolled in Dewitt Clinton High School, a highly regarded, predominately white, boys school. An excellent studenthe was elected to the schools honor society, AristaCullen worked on the schools literary magazine, Magpie, eventually becoming the associate editor. He studied Latin and read the works of nineteenth-century English poets Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, and African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Cullens Song of the Poets, published in Magpie in 1918, emerged as a tribute to the great American and English poets. Another high school

At a Glance

Born Countee (first name pronounced Coun-tay) Leroy Porter, May 30, 1903, in Louisville, KY (some sources say New York, NY, or Baltimore, MD); died of uremic poisoning, January 9, 1946, in New York, NY; buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York, NY; no record of natural parents; adopted by Frederick Asbury (a minister) and Carolyn Cullen; married Nina Yolande DuBois, April 9, 1928 (divorced, 1930); married Ida Mae Roberson, September 27, 1940. Education: New York University, B.A., 1925; Harvard University, M.A., 1926.

Poet, columnist, editor, novelist, playwright, childrens writer, and educator; began writing poetry in the early 1920s; Opportunity: journal of Negro Life, editor and writer, 1926-28; Frederick Douglas Junior High School, New York, NY, teacher, 1934-45.

Awards: Witter Bynner Prize for Poems, 1925; John Reed Memorial Prize for Threnody for a Brown Girl, Poetry magazine, 1925; Amy Spingarn Award for Two Moods of Love, Crisis magazine, 1925; Palm Poetry Contest second prize winner for Wisdom Cometh With the Years, 1925; Crisis Poetry Contest second prize winner for Thoughts in a Zoo, 1926; Harmon Foundation Literary Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for distinguished achivement in literature by a Negro, 1927; Guggenheum Foundation fellowship, 1928-30.

Member: New York Civic Club, Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Delta Phi.

poem, I Have a Rendezvous with Lifebased upon Alan Seegers I Have a Rendezvous with Deathearned him first prize in a citywide poetry contest sponsored by the Empire Federation of Womens Clubs.

A popular student, Cullen served as class vice president, treasurer of the Inter-High School Poetry Association, and was a member of the debating society. In 1922 Cullen graduated from Dewitt Clinton and entered New York University on a State Regents Scholarship. Outside his regular academic studies in Latin, Greek, English, French, math, physics, geology, and philosophy, Cullen dedicated himself to writing poetry.

Studying under English scholar Hyder E. Rollins, Cullen acquired a passion for the nineteenth-century English poet John Keats. The romantic ballad-style of Keats had a profound impact on Cullens career. Writer Arna Bontemps recalled years later, in The Harlem Renaissance Remembered, that when he first met Cullen, he told me that John Keats was his god.

The Poet Must Sing

At New York University, Cullen began his distinguished career as a poet. In 1923 and 1924, he won second prize in the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry contest, sponsored by the Poetry Society of America. At this time, Cullens poems began to appear in the pages of leading American periodicals, including Opportunity, Crisis, the Bookman, Poetry, Harpers, Nation, and American Mercury. In 1925 Cullen won first prize in the Witter Bynner contest and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from NYU. Published in the same year, Cullens first collection of poems, Color, won the Harmon Foundation Literary Award.

Critically acclaimed in white and black literary circles, Color made Cullen the most nationally celebrated African-American poet since Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Divided into three sections, Color contains 74 poems, one-third of which deal with racial themes. Rooted in traditional sonnet form, the books poems reveal what S.P. Fullinwinder described in The Mind and Mood of Black America, as a struggle between myth and modernityan inner struggle between the fundamentalist faith of his adoptive father and the pagan impulse of his poetic vision. One of the finest and most famous poems of the volume, Heritage, represents this struggle between faith and racial identity. The line So I lie appears five times, a recurrent phrase intended to illustrate the mystical images of Christ and Africa and the true search for spirituality and ancestral heritage.

Unlike other Harlem Renaissance poets such as Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown, Cullen did not utilize the rhythms of jazz or modern, free verse style. Cullen wrote in Opportunity that I wonder if jazz poems really belong to that dignified company, that select and austere circle of high literary expression we call poetry. As Gerald Early pointed out in My Souls High Song, Cullens criticism of jazz poetry stemmed from the fact that he believed jazz to be an insufficiently developed, insufficiently permanent art form to use as an aesthetic for poetry.

Harlems Poet Scholar

Determined to become a poet of high literary tradition, Cullen entered Harvard University in 1925, to study literature. His most influential instructor, Robert S. Hillyer, taught Cullen by assigning him exercises in writing traditional forms of English verse. After receiving a masters degree from Harvard in 1926, Cullen took a job as assistant editor for the Urban Leagues publication Opportunity. At the magazine Cullen also wrote the column Dark Tower, in which he reviewed the works of African-American authors, poets, and playwrights.

In 1927 Cullen published Caroling Dusk, an anthology of 38 black poets from Paul Lawrence Dunbar to 18-year-old Lula Lowe Weeden. In committing himself to the elevation of African-American art, Cullen stated in the books introduction that, I have called this collection an anthology of verse by Negro poets rather than an anthology of Negro verse. In an effort to promote the universal consciousness in the art of the black poet, Cullen added that, As heretical as it may sound, there is the probability that Negro poets, dependent as they are on the English language, may have more to gain from the rich background of English and American poetry than from any nebulous atavistic yearnings towards an African inheritance. The year 1927 also saw the publication of Cullens Copper Sun and Ballad of a Brown Girl. Although Copper Sun won the general approval of critics, many agreed that it lacked the intensity of Color.

Cullen dedicated Copper Sun to Yolande Du Bois, daughter of famous National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founder and scholar W. E. B. Du Bois. Introduced to Yolande in the summer of 1923, Cullens courtship greatly pleased her father. But despite her prestigious social position, Yolande was, according to historian David Levering Lewis, a kind yet plain women of modest intellectual endowment, who, as it was well known among Harlem circles, was infatuated with jazz band leader Jimmie Lunceford. Nevertheless, Yolande and Cullen were married by Reverend Cullen on April 9, 1928, in the Salem Methodist Church. The ceremony became a grand showing of African-American wealth and talent from around the country. Among the ushers were the famous black poets Ama Bontemps and Langston Hughes.

Not long after the wedding, Cullen traveled to France on a Guggenheim fellowship. Leaving his wife, who was to join him later in Paris, Cullen departed for Europe on June 30 with his father and close friend Harold Jackman. Taking up residence in a small hotel in the Trianon on the Avenue du Maine, Cullen found Paris to be an exciting and colorful city. In Paris he often met with a group of African-American artists, including writer Eric Walrond and sculptor Augusta Savage.

Aside from writing, Cullen enrolled at the Sorbonne to study French literature. When Yolande joined Cullen in July of 1928, the couple decided to end their relationship. After Yolande returned to America, Cullen stayed in Paris and completed The Black Christ and Other Poems. One of the many poems dedicated to the painful break-up with his wife, Foolish Heart was a poignant example of Cullens painful reflection: Be still, heart, cease those measured strokes;/Lie quiet in your hollow bed;/This moving frame is but a hoax;/To make you think you are not dead.

Published in 1930, The Black Christ, hopefully dedicated to white America, failed to win the favor of critics. Many complained that the books 47 poems lacked intensity and the proud defiant mood of his earlier work. The title poem deals with two brothers in the South, who are told by their mother to keep their faith in God. After the rebellious brother Jim kills a man, he is murdered by a lynch mob, symbolizing the crucifixion of Christ and the tragic death of spring. The unsuccessful attempt to fuse these two themes, however, led critics to dismiss the poem as inappropriate, confused, and unrealistic.

Confronted by this harsh criticism of his work, Cullen returned to the United States in 1930. Divorced from his wife in the same year, he soon set out to write the novel One Way to Heaven. Based upon his conflicting views of religion, the book, published in 1932, is a satirical work portraying the lives of both black folks and members of Harlems African-American elite. The book is centered around the love affair and religious conversion of Sam Lucas, a religious trickster, and Mattie Johnson, who works as a maid for a wealthy black Harlem family. As Gerald Early explained in My Souls High Song, the book reveals Cullens strong sense of individuality by condemning orthodoxy and mindless uniformity as the worst sort of deception.

Poet in the Classroom

Although he was offered a position at Dillard University in New Orleans, Cullen took a job as French teacher at Frederick Douglas Junior High School in 1934. While teaching at Frederick Douglas over the next decade, Cullen continued to write and attend public lectures. Cullens The Medea, and Some Poems, published in 1935, contained his translation of Euripidess classical Greek play Medea as well as 18 verses. Included was the protest poem Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song, dedicated to nine black youths wrongly accused of the rape of two white women in Alabama.

In 1940, Cullen married Ida Mae Roberson and moved into a comfortable suburban home in Tuckahoe, New York. During the same year, he published a collection of childrens poems entitled The Lost Zoo. This work, like Cullens My Lives and How I Lost Them, published in 1942, is based on the adventures of his cat Christopher, who, according to Cullen, helped author the two stories.

During 1942 Cullen was interviewed in his former alma maters publication, Magpie, by young Dewitt Clinton high school student James Baldwin, who would himself become a brilliant writer. In his summation of the condition of the black artist in America, Cullen told Baldwin that in this field one gets pretty much what he deserves. If youre really something, nothing can hold you back. In the artistic field, society recognizes the Negro as an equal and, in some cases, as a superior member.

Though Cullens career as a poet had long since faded by the mid-1940s, he left behind a lifetime of works that, as Gerald Early wrote in My Souls High Song, contributed to entire concept of the Harlem Renaissance and the formation of a national black culture. Quoted in J. Saunders Reddings To Make a Black Poet, Cullen stated that the essential quality of good poetry is utmost sincerity and earnestness of purpose. A poet untouched by his times, by his environment, is only half a poet. Given the enduring impact of Cullens work, he remains a true voice of his time and an American poetic genius.

Selected Writings


One Way to Heaven, Harper, 1932.

The Lost Zoo (A Rhyme for the Young, But Not Too Young), Harper, 1940.

My Lives and How I Lost Them, Harper, 1947.


(With Arna Bontemps) St. Louis Women, first produced at Martin Beck Theatre, New York, March 20, 1946; published in Black Theatre, edited by Lindsay Patterson, Dodd, 1971.


Color, Harper, 1925.

Copper Sun, Harper, 1927.

The Black Christ, and Other Poems, Harper, 1929.

The Medea, and Some Poems, Harper, 1935.

On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen, Harper, 1946.


The Ballad of a Brown Girl: An Old Ballad Retold, Harper, 1925.

Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets, Harper, 1927.



Baker, Houston, Afro-American Poetics: Revisions of Harlem and the Black Aesthetic, University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

Bontemps, Arna, ed., The Harlem Renaissance Remembered, Dodd, 1972.

Early, Gerald, ed., My Souls High Song: The Collected Writings of the Harlem Renaissance, Anchor Books, 1991.

Ferguson, Blanche E., Countee Cullen and the Negro Renaissance, Dodd, 1966.

Fullinwinder, S. P., The Mind and Mood of Black America, Dorsey Press, 1969.

Lewis, David Levering, When Harlem Was in Vogue, Oxford University Press, 1981.

Redding, Saunders J., To Make a Poet Black, McGrath, 1968.


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 10, 1924.

The Magpie, Winter 1942.

John Cohassey

Cullen, Countee

views updated Jun 08 2018

Cullen, Countee

March 30, 1903
January 9, 1946

It has been difficult to place exactly where poet, novelist, and playwright Countee Cullen was born, with whom he spent the very earliest years of his childhood, and where

he spent them. Scholars variously cite New York City and Baltimore as his birthplace, but Cullen himself, on his college transcript at New York University, listed Louisville, Kentucky, as his place of birth. A few years later, when he had achieved considerable literary fame during the era known as the New Negro or Harlem Renaissance, he was to assert that his birthplace was New York City, a claim he continued to make for the rest of his life. Both Cullen's second wife, Ida, and some of his closest friends, including Langston Hughes and Harold Jackman, all said he was born in Louisville, although one Cullen scholar, Beulah Reimherr, claims in her M.A. thesis that Ida Cullen gave her husband's place of birth as Baltimore. As James Weldon Johnson wrote in The Book of American Negro Poetry (1931), "There is not much to say about these earlier years of Cullenunless he himself should say it." And Cullenrevealing a temperament that was not exactly secretive but private, less a matter of modesty than a tendency toward being encoded and tactfulnever in his life said anything more clarifying.

What we know for certain is that he was born on March 30, 1903, and that sometime between his birth and 1918 he was adopted by the Rev. Frederick A. and Carolyn Belle (Mitchell) Cullen of the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church in Harlem. It is impossible to state with any degree of certainty how old Cullen was at the time or how long he knew the Cullens before he was adopted. Apparently he went by the name of Countee Porter until 1918. He became Countee P. Cullen by 1921, and eventually just Countee Cullen. According to Harold Jackman, the adoption was never really "official"; that is to say, it was never formally consummated through the proper state-agency channels. It is difficult, indeed, to know whether Cullen was ever legally an orphan at any stage in his childhood.

Frederick Cullen was one of the pioneer black activist-ministers; he moved his Salem Methodist Episcopal Church from a storefront missionwhere it was in 1902, when he first arrived in New York Cityto the site of a former white church in Harlem in 1924, where he could boast of a membership of over 2,500. Since Countee Cullen himself stated in his 1927 anthology of black American poetry, Caroling Dusk, that he was "reared in the conservative atmosphere of a Methodist parsonage," it is clear that his foster father, particularly, was a strong influence. The two men were very close, often traveling abroad together. But as Cullen evidences a decided unease in his poetry over his strong and conservative Christian training and the attraction of his pagan inclinations, his feelings about his father may have been somewhat ambivalent. Frederick Cullen was, on the one hand, a puritanical Christian patriarch, and Countee was never remotely that. On the other hand, it has been suggested that Frederick was also something of an effeminate man. (He was dressed in girl's clothing by his poverty-stricken mother well beyond the acceptable boyhood age for such a practice and was apparently effeminate in his manner as an adult.) Some scholars, especially Jean Wagner, have argued that Countee Cullen's homosexuality, or decidedly ambiguous sexual nature, may have been attributable to his foster father's contrary influence as both fire-breathing Christian and latent or covert transsexual. To be sure, in his poetry Cullen equated paganism with various sensual postures, including homosexuality. Cullen was a devoted and obedient son, and the fact that the Cullens had no other children made this attachment much easier to achieve.

Cullen was an outstanding student both at DeWitt Clinton High School (19181921)where he not only edited the school's newspaper but also assisted in editing the literary magazine, Magpie, and wrote his first poetry that achieved noticeand at New York University (19211925), where he wrote most of the major work that was to make up his first two volumes, Color (1925) and Copper Sun (1927). It was also while at NYU that he wrote The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1927). In high school Cullen won his first contest, a citywide competition, with the poem "I Have a Rendezvous with Life," a nonracial poem inspired by Alan Seeger's "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." If any event signaled the coming of the Harlem Renaissance, it was the precocious success of this rather shy black boy who, more than any other black literary figure of his generation, was being touted and bred to become a major crossover literary figure. Here was a black man with considerable academic training who could, in effect, write "white" verseballads, sonnets, quatrains, and the likemuch in the manner of Keats and the British Romantics (albeit, on more than one occasion, tinged with racial concerns), with genuine skill and compelling power. He was certainly not the first African American to attempt to write such verse, but he was first to do so with such extensive education, with such a complete understanding of himself as a poet, and producing poetry that was not trite or inferior. Only two other black American poets before Cullen could be taken so seriously as self-consciously considered and proficient poets: Phillis Wheatley and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

If the aim of the Harlem Renaissance was, in part, the reinvention of the native-born African American as a being who could be assimilated while decidedly retaining something called a "racial self-consciousness," then Cullen fit the bill better than virtually any other Renaissance writer. And if "I Have a Rendezvous with Life" was the opening salvo in the making of Cullen's literary reputation, then the 1924 publication of "Shroud of Color" in H. L. Mencken's American Mercury confirmed the advent of the black boy wonder as one of the most exciting American poets on the scene. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from NYU, Cullen earned a master's degree in English and French from Harvard (1927). Between high school and graduation from Harvard he had become the most popular black poetvirtually the most popular black literary figurein America. It was after one of his poems and his popular column appeared in Opportunity magazine that A'Lelia Walker (heiress of Madame C. J. Walker's hair-care-products fortune) named her salon, where the black and white literati gathered in the late 1920s, the Dark Tower.

Cullen won more major literary prizes than any other black writer of the 1920s: the first prize in the Witter Bynner Poetry Contest in 1925; Poetry magazine's John Reed Memorial Prize; the Amy Spingarn Award of The Crisis magazine; second prize in Opportunity magazine's first poetry contest; second prize in the poetry contest of Palms. He was the second African American to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. His first three booksColor, Copper Sun, and The Ballad of the Brown Girl sold well and made him a hero for many blacks. Lines from Cullen's popular poems, such as "Heritage," "Incident," "From the Dark Tower," and "Yet Do I Marvel," were commonly quoted.

Cullen was also at the center of one of the major social events of the Harlem Renaissance; on April 9, 1928, he married Yolande Du Bois, the only child of W. E. B. Du Bois, in one of the most lavish weddings in black New York history. This wedding was to symbolize the union of the grand black intellectual patriarch and the new breed of younger African Americans who were responsible for much of the excitement of the Renaissance. It was an apt meshing of personalities, as both Cullen and Du Bois père were conservative by nature and ardent traditionalists. That the marriage turned out so disastrously and ended so quicklyYolande and Cullen divorced in 1930probably adversely affected Cullen. (He remarried in 1940.) Cullen published The Black Christ and Other Poems in 1929, receiving lukewarm reviews from both black and white presses. He was bitterly disappointed that "The Black Christ," his longest and in many respects his most complicated poem, the product of over two years' work, was considered by most critics to be his weakest and least distinguished.

From the 1930s until his death, Cullen wrote a great deal less, partly hampered by his job as a French teacher at Frederick Douglass Junior High (his most famous student was James Baldwin). But he wrote noteworthy, even significant work in a number of genres. His novel One Way to Heaven, published in 1934, rates among the better black satires and is one of the three important fictional retrospectives of the Harlem Renaissance, the others being Wallace Thurman's The Infants of the Spring and George Schuyler's Black No More; his translation of The Medea is the first major translation of a classical work by a twentieth-century black American writer; the children's books The Lost Zoo and My Lives and How I Lost Them are among the more clever and engaging books of children's verse, written at a time when there was not much work published for children by black writers; and his poetry of the period includes perhaps some of his best, certainly some of his more darkly complex, sonnets. He was also working on a musical with Arna Bontemps called St. Louis Woman (based on Bontemps's novel, God Sends Sunday ) at the time of his death from high blood pressure and uremic poisoning.

For many years after his death, Cullen's reputation was eclipsed by those of other Harlem Renaissance writers, particularly Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and his work had gone out of print. Later, however, there was a resurgence of interest in his life and work, and his books were reissued.

See also Baldwin, James; Bontemps, Arna; Du Bois, W.E.B.; Dunbar, Paul Laurence; Harlem Renaissance; Hurston, Zora Neale; New Negro; Schuyler, George S.; Thurman, Wallace; Walker, A'Lelia; Walker, Madam C. J.; Wheatley, Phillis


Bontemps, Arna, ed. The Harlem Renaissance Remembered. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972.

Davis, Arthur P. From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 1900 to 1960. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974.

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

Ferguson, Blanche F. Countee Cullen and the Negro Renaissance. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966.

Huggins, Nathan. Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Johnson, James Weldon. The Book of American Negro Poetry, 2nd ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1931.

Perry, Margaret. A Bio-bibliography of Countée P. Cullen, 19031946. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1971.

Wagner, Jean. Black Poets of the United States: From Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes. Translated by Kenneth Douglas. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973.

gerald early (1996)

Countee Cullen

views updated Jun 08 2018

Countee Cullen

The American Countee Cullen (1903-1946) was one of the most widely heralded African American poets of the Harlem renaissance, though he was less concerned with social and political problems than were his African American contemporaries. He is noted for his lyricism and his artful use of imagery.

Countee Cullen, whose real surname was Porter, was born May 30, 1903. Nothing is known about where he was born, and little is known of his parents. An orphan in New York City, he was adopted by the Reverend Frederick A. and Mrs. Carolyn Cullen, whose name he took. Following graduation from DeWitt Clinton High School, where he won a high school poetry contest, he attended New York University. In 1925 he took a baccalaureate degree, and his first book of poems, Color, was published. His metrical skill reminded many readers of the English poet Algernon Swinburne. He earned a master's degree at Harvard and then became assistant editor of Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, which printed the fugitive pieces of African American writers and gave publicity to the African American artists who contributed so much to the cultural awakening of the 1920s.

Cullen knew what was going on in African American life, but he was not deeply involved. Ballad of the Brown Girl and Copper Sun, both published in 1927, contain mostly personal Keatsian lyrics, which, generally speaking, show no advance and no development from the poems in his first volume. The piece entitled "Heritage" is a noteworthy exception. In a critical preface to the collection of African American poetry, Caroling Dusk (1927), which he edited, Cullen argues that "Negro poetry … must emanate from some country other than this in some language other than our own." Though he later claimed that his poetry "treated of the heights and depths of emotion which I feel as a Negro," he did not want to be known as an African American poet.

Even after his marriage in 1928 to Yolande, the only daughter of the African American radical and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, Cullen stayed aloof from action and affirmative argument about race. His marriage lasted only through the first year of a 2-year visit to France, where he completed the long, narrative, parabolic poem "The Black Christ," which became the title poem of his fourth volume. The Medea and Some Poems (1935) was his last book of verse. From 1934 to 1945 he taught French in a New York public school.

Cullen's poetry is traditional in structure. His output in prose suffers from an absence of genuine commitment and is undistinguished. His novel, One Way to Heaven, satirizes upper-class African American life. The Lost Zoo and My Nine Lives and How I Lost Them are children's books. Cullen collaborated on a musical play, St. Louis Woman (1946), but whatever emotional power and integrity it had was supplied by Arna Bontemps. The play opened on March 31, 1949. Cullen had died earlier, on Jan. 9, 1946. On These I Stand, his own selection of his best poems, was published in 1947.

Further Reading

The only full-length work on Cullen is Blanche E. Ferguson, Countee Cullen and the Negro Renaissance (1966). Stephen H. Bronz, Roots of Negro Racial Consciousness, the 1920's: Three Harlem Renaissance Authors (1964), discusses Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, and Claude McKay. Cullen is appraised in such anthologies and critical works as James Weldon Johnson, ed., The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922; rev. ed. 1931); Alain L. Locke, ed., The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925); J. Saunders Redding, To Make a Poet Black (1939); Margaret Just Butcher, The Negro in American Culture: Based on Materials Left by Alain Locke (1956); and Herbert Hill, ed., Soon, One Morning: New Writings by American Negroes, 1940-62 (1963). □