About Countee Cullen

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About Countee Cullen’s Life And Career Essay, Research Paper Gerald Early Poet, anthologist, novelist, translator, children’s writer, and playwright, Countee Cullen is something of a mysterious figure. He was born 30 March 1903, but it has been difficult for scholars to place exactly where he was born, with whom he spent the very earliest years of his childhood, and where he spent them. New York City and Baltimore have been given as birthplaces. Cullen himself, on his college transcript at New York University, lists 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, which he continued to claim for

the rest of his life. Cullen’s second wife, Ida, and some of his closest friends, including Langston Hughes and Harold Jackman, said that Cullen was born in Louisville. As James Weldon Johnson wrote of Cullen in The Book of American Negro Poetry (rev. ed., 1931): "There is not much to say about these earlier years of Cullen–unless he himself should say it." And Cullen–revealing a temperament that was not exactly secretive but private, less a matter of modesty than a tendency toward being encoded and tactful–never in his life said anything more clarifying. Sometime before 1918, Cullen was adopted by the Reverend Frederick A. and Carolyn Belle (Mitchell) Cullen. It is impossible to state with certainty how old Cullen was when he was adopted or how long he knew the

Cullens before he was adopted. Apparently he went by the name of Countee Porter until 1918. By 1921 he became Countee P. Cullen and eventually just Countee Cullen. According to Harold Jackman, Cullen’s adoption was never "official." That is to say it was never consummated through proper state-agency channels. Indeed, it is difficult to know if Cullen was ever legally an orphan at any stage in his childhood. Frederick Cullen was a pioneer black activist minister. He established his Salem Methodist Episcopal Church in a storefront mission upon his arrival in New York City in 1902, and in 1924 moved the Church to the site of a former white church in Harlem where he could boast of a membership of more than twenty-five hundred. Countee Cullen himself stated in Caroling

Dusk (1927) that he was "reared in the conservative atmosphere of a Methodist parsonage," and it is clear that his foster father was a particularly 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. On the one hand, Frederick Cullen was a puritanical Christian patriarch, and Cullen was never remotely that in his life. On the other hand, it has been suggested that Frederick Cullen 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 transvestism.) That Cullen was homosexual or of a decidedly ambiguous sexual nature may also be attributable to his foster father’s contrary influence as both fire-breathing Christian and latent homosexual. Cullen was an outstanding student at DeWitt Clinton High School (1918-1921). He edited the school’s newspaper, assisted in editing the literary magazine, Magpie, and began to write poetry that achieved notice. While 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." At New York University (1921-1925), he wrote most of the poems for his first three volumes: Color (1925), Copper Sun (1927), and The Ballad