Cullen, Countee


1928 card signed by the renowned African-American poet, a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance



Autograph ID: 5267
Condition: Very good
Description: “(1903-1946) No known reliable information exists of his childhood until 1918 when he was taken in, or adopted, by Rev & Mrs. Frederick A. Cullen of Harlem, minister and founder of the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church. At some point, Cullen entered DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx, where he excelled academically while emphasizing his skills at poetry and in oratorical contest. He was elected into the honor society, was editor of the weekly newspaper, and elected vice-president of his graduating class. In Jan. 1922, he graduated with honors in Latin, Greek, mathematics, and French and entered New York University. In 1923, he won 2nd prize in the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry contest, sponsored by the Poetry Society of America, with “The Ballad of the Brown Girl”. At about this time, some of his poetry was printed in national periodicals such as Harper’s, Crisis, Opportunity, The Bookman, and Poetry. In 1924, he again placed 2nd in the contest, finally winning in 1925. Cullen competed in a poetry contest sponsored by Opportunity and came in 2nd with “To One Who Say Me Nay”, losing to Langston Hughes’s “The Weary Blues”. He graduated from NYU as one of 11 students selected to Phi Beta Kappa. Cullen entered Harvard in 1925, to pursue a Masters in English (received in 1926) about the same time his 1st collection of poems, “Color”, was published. The work celebrated Black beauty and deplored the effects of racism. The book included “Heritage” and “Incident”, probably his most famous poems, and “Yet Do I Marvel”, about racial identity and injustice. “Color” was a landmark of the Harlem Renaissance. This 1920s artistic movement produced the first large body of work in the US written by African-Americans. However, Cullen considered poetry raceless, although his poem “The Black Christ” took a racial theme, lynching of a black youth for a crime he did not commit. The movement was centered in Harlem. During the 1920s, a fresh generation of writers emerged, few Harlem-born. Other leading figures included Alain Locke, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Jean Toomer, and Arna Bontemps. The movement was accelerated by grants and scholarships and supported by such White writers as Carl Van Vechten. He worked as assistant editor for Opportunity magazine, where his column, “The Dark Tower”, increased his literary reputation. A 1928 Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to study and write abroad. He met Nina Yolande Du Bois, daughter of W. E. B. Du Bois, the leading black intellectual. They married in April 1928, but divorced in 1930. By 1929 he had published 4 volumes of poetry. It was rumored that Cullen was homosexual, and his alleged relationship with Harold Jackman was a significant factor in the divorce. Jackman’s diaries, letters, and collections of memorabilia are held in various depositories, including Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in Georgia. At Cullen’s death, Jackman requested the name of the Georgia accumulation be changed from the Harold Jackman Collection to the Countee Cullen Memorial Collection, and when Jackman died in 1961, the collection was renamed the Cullen-Jackman Collection to honor them both. By 1930 his reputation as a poet waned. His only novel, “One Way to Heaven”appeared in 1932. From 1934 until the end of his life, he taught English, French, and creative writing at Frederick Douglass Junior High School in New York City. During this period, he also wrote 2 works for young readers: “The Lost Zoo” (1940) and “My Lives and How I Lost Them”, an autobiography of his cat. In the last years of his life, Cullen wrote mostly for the theatre. He worked with Arna Bontemps to adapt his 1931 novel “God Sends Sunday” into “St. Louis Woman” (1946, published 1971) for the musical stage, its score composed by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer. Cullen also translated the Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides, published in 1935 as “The Medea and Some Poems” with a collection of sonnets and short lyrics.

Frameable autograph sentiment (“Sincerely”) signed on a 3 ¼ x 5 ¼ card, adds Albany (NY), February 10 1928.”
Type: Signed Card

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