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Countee Cullen (1903—1946)


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Harper and Brothers published Color, Countee Cullen's first volume of verse, in 1925. At the time it was considered a signal event in the New Negro Renaissance as Cullen, who was well known because most of these poems had been published previously in impressive literary magazines, was so highly regarded by both blacks and whites. Critics received the book more enthusiastically than any subsequent Cullen work. At twenty-two, Cullen seemed a major literary star in the making, a full-blown lyric poet of considerable power and possibilities, more skilled in versification, more educated, and more fully developed as a poetic talent than any of his contemporaries and certainly any of his predecessors. Although ambivalent about seeing himself as a racial poet, about one-third of Color deals with African American themes and some of these works—“Heritage,” “Incident,” “Yet Do I Marvel,” and “The Shroud of Color”—are among the most famous and best-remembered poems not only of Cullen's entire canon but also of African American poetry as a genre. Clearly several of these racial poems established Cullen's main themes of alienation from the white West, quest for a theological purpose for black suffering, a hatred of segregation and racism, which played upon pity and irony, and the conflict between a Christian present and a pagan past. Most of the poems employ the forms of the sonnet, rhymed couplets, and ballad stanzas, and most were composed while Cullen was an undergraduate at New York University.

Darwin Turner, In a Minor Chord: Three Afro-American Writers and Their Search for Identity, 1971.Alan Shucard, Countee Cullen, 1984.Gerald Early,, ed., My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance, 1991.

Gerald Early

Subjects: Literature.

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