Poet Countee Cullen was born in Louisville, Kentucky. “Countee Cullen was perhaps the most representative voice of the Harlem Renaissance. His life story is essentially a tale of youthful exuberance and talent of a star that flashed across the Afro-American firmament and then sank toward the horizon,” writes the Poetry Foundation.
Abandoned as a child, he was adopted by Rev. F.A. Cullen, minister of a large Harlem congregation at the age of 15. Cullen excelled in his studies, specifically poetry and debate, while attending DeWitt Clinton High School in Manhattan. In 1922, he entered New York University and won the Witter Bynner Poetry Prize among other prizes. Cullen, whose best-known works include Black Christ, Copper Sun, and The Ballad of the Brown Girl, had great success during the 1920s but scandal over his sexual orientation would overshadow his creative work in the 1930s. In the final years of his life, he found success as a playwright, including "The Third Fourth of July," a one-act play printed in Theatre Arts in August 1946. He died from uremic poisoning, an illness commonly associated with kidney failure, on Jan. 9, 1946, at age 42.
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