“There is no secret to success except hard work and getting something indefinable which we call 'the breaks.' In order for a writer to succeed, I suggest three things - read and write - and wait.” – Countee Cullen
A renowned member of the Harlem Renaissance writing movement, Cullen was born in Kentucky and adopted by a Methodist minister when his parents died while he was still a small child. Cullen’s writing career began in high school, where he edited the school newspaper and literary magazine and won a citywide poetry competition. He went on to attend New York University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1925 and winning the Witter Bynner Poetry Prize. That same year, Cullen released his lauded debut volume of poetry, Color.
With the publication of additional poetry volumes, Copper Sun and The Ballad of the Brown Girl (both 1927), Cullen was seen as a leading light among African-American writers. Also a novelist, children’s author and playwright, he was just starting to make a splash with his theatrical writings when he died from complications from high blood pressure.
Also a teacher, both in high school and college, he gave students this advice: “Remember, we must be one thing or the other, an asset or a liability, the sinew in your wing to help you soar, or the chain to bind you to earth.”
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