The Harlem Renissaunce

The Harlem Renaissance refers to the flowering of African American intellectual life during the 1920s and 1930s. It was then known as the “New Negro Movement” which is known to have been named after the 1925 anthropology by Alain Locke. This 1920s artistic movement produced the first large body of work in the United States written by the African Americans. Cullen considered poetry graceless, though his “The Black Christ” took a racial theme, lynching of a black youth for a crime he did not commit. The Harlem Renaissance influenced French- speaking black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris while still located in one of New York City’s neighborhood known as Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance period between the two world wars saw the rise and definition of the “New Negro” in social and political and literature activities of the nation. Cullen along with other formally educated black poets established the new aesthetic for racial movement. Countee Cullen is an important figure of the African-American arts movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Cullen was reared in New York City by his paternal grandmother until 1918, when he was adopted by the Reverend Frederick Asbury Cullen. This was a turning point in his life, for he was now introduced into the very center of black activism and achievement. Cullen’s talent was displayed early in his life, already in high school he had started in high school. Cullen’s first volume Color established him as a writer with an acute spiritual visual. A few years later, Cullen had achieved considerable literary fame during the era known as the New Negro or Harlem Renaissance. Sometime before 1918, Cullen was adopted by Reverend Fredrick Cullen who was also the pioneer black activist Minster. His first three volumes of: color (1925), which is also considered a landmark of the Harlem Renaissance, copper sun (1927), and The Ballard of the Brown Girl (1927), if any event signaled the coming of the Harlem Renaissance, it was the precocious success of this rather shy black boy who, more than any other literary black figure of his generation, was being touted and bred to become a major crossover literary figure. He was certainly not the first Negro to attempt to write such a verse but he was the first to do so with such manner of high intelligence and with such high understanding of himself as a poet. If the aim of Harlem renaissance was, in part, the reinvention of the native born- Negro as a being who can be assimilated as while decidedly retaining something called “a racial self-consciousness” then Cullen fit the bill.Between high school and his graduation from Harvard Cullen had become the most popular black poet and virtually the blackest literary figure in America. Cullen was also at the center of one of the major social events of the Harlem Renaissance: on 9th April 1928 he married Yolande Du Bois, only child of W.E.B. Du Bois in one of the most lavished weddings in black New York history. This wedding was to symbolize union of the grand black intellectual patriarch and the new breed of younger Negroes who were responsible for much of the excitement of the Renaissance. It was an apt meshing of personalities as Cullen and u Bois was both conservative by nature and ardent traditionalists. That the marriage turned out so disastrously and ended so quickly in the year (1930) when they divorced probably adversely affected Cullen, who remarried in 1940. His novel one way to heaven published in 1934, rates as one of the better black satires and is one of the three important fictional retrospectives of the Harlem Renaissance. Cullen had been raised and educated in a primarily white community, De Witt was one of the finest public schools in New York and very few African- American students were enrolled there. He differed from other poets of the Harlem Renaissance, like Langston Hughes, in that he lacked the background to comment from personal experienced on the lives of other blacks or use popular black themes in his writing.

Cullen said that he wanted to a poet and not a Negro poet which to even the Harlem Renaissance poets including Langston Hughes said that or interpreted this to mean that Cullen wanted to deny his race, although this did not affect his popularity. This view of Cullen wanting o deny his race was unfounded. In fact his major poems and most of those still been printed in anthologies, have racial themes. Cullen expounded his view in the Brooklyn Eagle, he asserts that “If I am going to be a poet at all, I am going to be a POET, not a “NEGRO POET”. This is what hindered the development of artist among us. Their one note has been the concern with their race. That is all very well none of us can get away from it. I cannot at times. You will see it in my verse……..” He did look at the future of artist and the separation which was according to race did bring before a future of poor artistry. He continues by saying, “I shall not write of Negro subjects for the purpose of propaganda”. Though he was less concerned social and political problems than were his African American contemporaries, he is noted for his lyricism and his artful use of imagery.


The Harlem Renaissance was a period of great achievement in African-American art, literature, music and dance. Jazz and blues became the height of fashionable music and the careers of such greats as jazz musician Duke Ellington and singer Bessie Smith were founded. The 1925 publication of Cullen’s color, His sensuous lyrics verse expressed themes in the life of his race and shed light on social reality. Before the roaring twenties most whites believed African-Americans incapable of culture or sophistication, this was proved wrong by writers such as Cullen as well as the renaissance which obligated these false beliefs. Cullen’s poetry was one which was to many a turning point especially o artist to whom he said should be considered for their work and not for the color of their skin, this was a war seen against racism, although he was seen to be non political but his works are seen to somewhat give a different impression.In 1929 Cullen had published four volumes of poetry, the title of poem of “THE BLACK CHRIST AND OTHER POEMS” which Cullen compared to the lynching to Christ’s crucifixion. As well as writing books he (Cullen) also helps other black writers and promoted their works. As a poet Cullen was conservative: he did not ignore racial themes, but based his works on romantic poets, and often used traditional sonnet form. Because of his success in both the white and black cultures, and also because of his romantic temperament, he formulates an aesthetic that embraced both cultures. He came to believe that art can transcend race and it could be used to minimize the distance between the black and the white peoples. His choice of model poets like John Keats was one meant on proving that point.Cullen was considered perhaps the most representative voice in the Harlem Renaissance. His life history as seen is one which is of youthful exuberance and talent of a star that flashed across the Afro- American firmament and then sank toward the horizon. For many years after the death of Cullen, his reputation was eclipsed by some of the other Harlem Renaissance writers, particularly Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and his work had gone out of print. In the last few years, however there has been a resurgence of interest in Cullen’s life and work and his writings are being reissued. For a few years Cullen was the most celebrated African- American in the nation and by many accounts is considered one of the major voices of the Harlem Renaissance. He died of uremic poisoning in New York City.

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