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Countee Cullen Analysis

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Countee Cullen (1903-1946) was an influential African American poet largely remembered for his contribution to the Harlem Renaissance, a period from the early 1900’s to the mid 1930’s in which black culture thrived. Artists such as Langston Hughes and Louis Armstrong were integral in the creative revitalization and, while Cullen is perhaps lesser known, his work is no less enduring (Harlem). As a teenager, Cullen went to live with Reverend Frederick A. Cullen, who would later become president of the Harlem chapter of the NAACP. An exceptional student, Cullen pursued undergraduate studies at New York University and graduate work at Harvard, during which time he published numerous poems. Because he was immersed in both black and white culture, he often wrote of racial injustice, yet did not want to be viewed as simply a black poet. This conflict is evident in his work. His first volume of poetry, Color, published in 1925, included “Incident” (Countee Cullen). A tragic tale of innocence lost, “Incident” describes the moment when a young Cullen first realized that the color of his skin alone could create contempt. Further thought-provoking, it highlights another child, equally innocent, who has been taught to hold this perfunctory contempt. The poem begins in a peaceful place – a carefree child traveling on a bus, excited to be visiting Baltimore. Once riding in Old Baltimore, Heart-filled, head-filled with glee, I saw a Baltimorean Keep looking straight at me. (lines
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