Countee Cullen was one of the best known poets to emerge during the Harlem Renaissance.
He was born Countee Leroy Porter on March 30, 1903 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was raised by his maternal grandmother until her death in 1918. Countee was then adopted by Reverend Frederick Cullen, pastor of Salem Methodist Episcopal Church in Harlem, and his wife Carolyn.
The Cullen’s made sure Countee received a good education. He attended New York University, and while enrolled there wrote most of the material for his first two volumes of poetry. Cullen graduated from the NYU in 1925. That same year, Color, his book of poetry that addressed issues of racism, was published.
After NYU Countee Cullen attended Harvard University and graduated in 1927 with a master’s degree in English and French.
Upon his return to New York he became assistant editor at Opportunity, a publication of the National Urban League.
Countee Cullen was educated in classical literary forms and was influenced by the English poet John Keats. He was sometimes criticized because that influence was reflected in his work. Cullen believed that poetry transcended race and wrote using “classical verse’ rather than the “rhythms and idioms” of black American heritage.
Cullen was soon applauded by black and white audiences alike, and by the end of the 1920s was the most popular black poet in the United States.