Mr. Gershman Mrs. Arsenault
Nathaniel Rasmussen
ILA 9 Honors 10/29/08

Claude McKay

Claude McKay was born in Jamaica on September 5th 1889, and would grow up to be one of the most well known poets and novelists of the Harlem Renaissance ("Claude McKay." His parents were at the top of the lower class, and his father was a farmer and he had a deep sense of racial pride and awareness, which would come to affect Claude in many ways. His father told him many great tales of African folklore and also a few tales about his grandfather’s enslavement. Then he moved on to begin his education, which was given to him by his brother, who instilled in him many free-thinking ways. At the same time he was being educated separately by an English linguist by the name of Walter Jekyll, who taught him all about poetry and introduced him to many different aspects of poetry and showed him many great British works.
(Claude McKay Youth. Photograph. 28 Oct. 2008)

Then at age nineteen he moved to Kingston, the mostly white capitol of Jamaica, where he was introduced to and constantly the subject of much racism. It seemed to him that slavery was almost dominant there and that all of the blacks there lived under the near complete control of all of the whites who could use them (Ruby). Then in 1912 he left for the United States of America to continue his education at Tuskegee Institute. But the environment did not generate much happiness for him so he decided to transfer to Kansas State to study agriculture and seemingly follow in his father’s footsteps. But this path did not satisfy him either so after 2 years he decided to leave and go to New York. While there his life took a few turns, such as his opening of a restraint failing. He also decided to marry. It was there that he met his first wife, Eulalie Imelda Edwards, but he could not sustain it under the pressure of his peers for homosexuality. However he did not forget her for when he created his pseudonym, Eli Edwards, he kept her last name as his own personal reminder of her (Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008.).

By this time he had been creating and submitting his work to various small magazines throughout New York and had become a habitual contributor the a certain magazine called the Liberator. In a July issue of 1919, his work “If We Must Die” brought him great fame ("Claude McKay." Wilson Web ). In it he talks about what has been going on in Harlem at the time. He portrays Harlem as an “inglorious spot” and says that should they “nobly die” then even their oppressors would have to respect them. It also talks about how black America must unite against their common enemy which is racism and segregation, and that though they are greatly outnumbered, they continue fighting with their “back against the wall” and will face death if it means freedom. Then afterward he developed greater connections with the Liberator and by 1921 became its associate editor. But then he decided to travel to England, where he published several other works and also gained respect for communism. So in 1923 he traveled to Moscow. While there he saw several things that caused him to denounce communism and this greatly decreased the respect several other scholars had for him.
He continued to travel around Europe, going from France to Barcelona all the while publishing multiple new books denouncing racism in the USA. One of his greater and most famous novels published there was Home to Harlem, written while traveling between France and Spain from 1926 to 1927. Home to Harlem was a novel that portrayed the many “sordid and occasionally harrowing scenes of ghetto life” (Contemporary Authors Online). It gained Claude McKay the title of the first black writer to create a widely successful novel and it was read by millions of people, including whites. In succession to this wonderfully successful novel, he wrote two more including Banjo: A Story Without a Plot and Banana Bottom. Neither of these novels caught on nearly as well as Home to Harlem, and ended up repulsing readers rather than draw them in.

In 1934 he returned to America. He struggled with many different types of jobs and had trouble regaining his footing in America, perhaps because he had been in so many foreign countries over the course of the last 10 years. He continued to write poetry and fiction for African Americans, but none of them caught on and ended up adding insult to injury instead of helping his steadily falling financial state. His career as a writer had come to a close, so in 1943 he moved to Chicago and converted to Roman Catholicism, where he found his own sanctuary which helped him through his final years in life ("Claude McKay." Wilson Web.). Over the following years he worked as a teacher for a Catholic church in Chicago, until he died of a heart failure on May 22, 1948.

Claude McKay was an inspirational figure to his peers and was held in reverence by many other poets of the Harlem Renaissance and is still held in the same position as he was many years ago. As stated by Robert A. Smith in his essay for the Phylon Magazine, “His has been heard.”( qtd. in Contemporary Authors Online). After he died, his reputation as a writer continued to fall, but after the Great Depression ended and World War II had ended, he regained some of his stature and in 1977 he was named the National Poet of Jamaica (Contemporary Authors Online). He may not have been the most well known of the great poets of the Harlem Renaissance, succeeding such great poets and novelists such as Langston Hughes, but he was one of the few who took their travels abroad. He not only helped with the recognition of African Americans throughout America during his stay in Harlem, but he helped spread to the world the plight many great African Americans. In a sense, he was an ideal American citizen.

Claude McKay. Photograph. 28 Oct. 2008

Works Cited

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource
Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008. <>

"Claude McKay." 2008. 23 Oct. 2008 <

Claude McKay. Photograph. 28 Oct. 2008 <

"Claude McKay." Wilson Web. 2008. The H.W. Wilson Company. 24 Oct. 2008

Claude McKay Youth. Photograph. 28 Oct. 2008 <

Ruby, Mary. "The Tropics in New York." Poetry For Students. 2008. Gale Virtual
Library. 23 Oct. 2008 <

Mr.Gershman Mrs. Arsenault
Matt Sykes
ILA 9 Honors 10/29/08

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was a very influential poet who wrote during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. His writings showed white Americans that now African Americans are not just slaves anymore, they can accomplish many great things. His writings also inspired many fellow African-Americans to achieve the same level of greatness.

Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri to the family of James Nathaniel and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, who unfortunately separated shortly after young Langston was born. Hughes’ mother attended college and his father wanted to become a lawyer so he took courses in law. However, because he was denied a chance to take the Oklahoma bar exam he went first to Missouri, and then still unable to become a lawyer he left his son and wife to move to Cuba then Mexico. While in Mexico he became a wealthy lawyer and landowner. As a result of financial problems, Hughes’s mother moved regularly, desperately in search of a steady well paying job. While Hughes’s mother was looking for work he was left in the care of his grandparents. His grandmother Mary Leary Langston was an important part of African American society because she was the first black woman to attend Oberlin College. She inspired young Langston to read books and value education. Sadly she died so he was forced to live with family friends in Kansas (Thomason).
During 1915 he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, joining his mother and new stepfather. In his stay in Lincoln he attended grammar school. However, his stay was not long and next year he moved to Cleveland, Ohio. From there Hughes attended Central High School where he performed excellently in both academics and sports. During his stay at Central he wrote poetry and short stories for the school literary magazine Belfry Owl, and he also edited the school yearbook. In 1920 he left to visit his father in Mexico, staying there for a year. When he returned in 1921 he went to Columbia University for a year then decided to drop out. After this he did many things including working on a merchant ship as a cabin boy, visting Africa, and writing numerous poems for American magazines. In 1923 and 1924 he lived in Paris. He then returned in 1925 to America moved back in with his mother and half-brother in Washington, D.C. He continued writing poetry while performing other jobs. In May and August of 1925 Hughes’ verse rewarded him with literary prizes from both Opportunity and Crisis magazines (Thomason).
Hughes’s luck got better and in December while he was working as a bus boy, he attracted the attention of a poet named Vachel Lindsay by placing three of his poems on Lindsay’s table. Later Lindsay read Hughes’s poems to an audience and said that he discovered a “Negro busboy poet,” (Thomason). During the next day reporters and photographers greeted Hughes to learn more about his work. He then published his first collection of poetry entitled The Weary Blues in 1926 (Thomason). Around this time Hughes started becoming a big part in the Harlem Renaissance.

Following this Hughes popularity during his latter years of his life began to decline because of his belief in humanity and hope for a world in which people could “sanely and with understanding live together” (Contemporary Authors Online). Unlike the younger and more radical writers, Hughes never seemed to loss his conviction that “most people are generally good, in every race and in every county where I have been” (Contemporary Authors Online). While reviewing The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times Laurence Lieberman accepted that Hughes’s “sensibility kept with the times,” however, he criticized his lack of a political position.

Despite of this criticism, Hughes’s place in American literature is secure. David Littlejohn wrote that Hughes is “the one sure Negro classic, more certain of permanence that even Baldwin or Ellison or Wright…His voice is as sure, his manners as original, his position as secure as, say Edwin Arlington Robinson’s or Robinson Jeffers’…By molding his verse always on the sounds of Negro talk, the rhythms of Negro music, by retaining his own keen honesty and directness, his poetic sense of ironic intelligence, he maintained though four decades a readable newness distinctly his own” (Contemporary Authors Online).

After a few years Hughes decided to go to the Soviet Union in 1932 to work on a film project. He became so irate with the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin he began to write on politics during the 1930s. Also he became involved in drama, founding several theaters. In 1938 he founded the Suitcase Theater in Harlem, in 1939 the Negro Art Theater in Los Angeles, and in 1941 the Skyloft Players in Chicago. In 1943 Hughes received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Lincoln University, and then in 1946 he was elected into the National Institute of Arts and Literature. Throughout the rest of his life he wrote poetry, and in the 1960s he was know as the “Dean of Negro Writers” (Thomason). However Hughes died in May 22, 1967 of congestive heart failure in New York (Contemporary Authors Online).

Langston received many awards some of which including: Opportunity magazine Literary Contest, first prize in poetry, 1925; Amy Spingarn Contest, Crisis Magazine, poetry and essay prizes, 1925; Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Prize contests, first prize, 1926; Palms Magazine Intercollegiate Poetry Award, 1927; Harmon Gold Medal for Literature, 1931; Guggenheim fellowship for creative work, 1935; Rosenwald fellowship, 1941; Litt.D., Lincoln University, 1943, Howard University, 1960, Western Reserve University, 1964; National Institute and American Academy of Arts and Letters grant, 1947; Anisfeld-Wolfe Award for best book on racial relations, 1954; Spingarn Medal, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1960 (Contemporary Authors Online).

Langston Hughes was considered one of the greatest, if not the best of inspirational Negro writers during the Harlem Renaissance. Even today he is looked at as one of the greatest poets. He was a role model, and an inspirational citizen who helped the lives of all African-Americans.

Works Cited

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008.

Langston Hughes. 29 Oct. 2008 <

Langston Hughes. Favorite Poets III. 29 Oct. 2008

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Poetry for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 10. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2001. 196-210. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Springfield Township High School. 28 Oct. 2008

Mr. Gershman, Ms. Arsenault
Max Vido
ILA 9 Honors 10/29/08

Countee Cullen, an Inspiration

During the Harlem Renaissance, the philosophy and creativity of northern cities flourished in black communities. Inspired writers published their work in journals and magazines furthering the movement of a more educated black community. Several writers made a substantial impact during the Harlem Renaissance. One of these writers, Countee Cullen, continued to encourage the black community to delve into literature to break racial barriers associated with the writing abilities of blacks and whites. His efforts have made him an eminent figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
"Countee Cullen"

The life of Countee Cullen was drastically altered because of his parentage. He was raised by his grandmother until the age of fifteen when she died. He was then adopted by Reverend Frederick A. Cullen, a pastor of Salem Methodist Episcopal Church, in Harlem (“Countee Cullen”). Being raised by a pastor, Cullen received incite on black politics and culture. His instinct awareness of his surroundings and upbringing helped propel his literary skills (Shucard). He carried his growing knowledge of his community into DeWitt Clinton High School, a predominantly white environment (Clinton). Cullen graduated in 1922 as the vice president of his grade as well as the editor of his school newspaper (“Countee Cullen”). Countee Cullen attended New York University for his sophisticated writing. Here, Cullen wrote great poetry, which ensued with national poetry honors. His, “Ballad of the Brown Girl,” won him national recognition, as well as “Spirit Birth,” which he published in the literary magazine “Opportunity” (Shucard). With great success at New York University, Cullen was accepted into Harvard’s master program, where he was praised for his powerful poetry (“Countee Cullen”). During his years of achieving his master degree, Countee Cullen was the most celebrated writer in Harlem.

At Harvard, Cullen published his first volume, “Color”, which consisted on seventy-three well-formed poems. Throughout “Color,” Cullen’s poems speak to the problems of racial identity (Shucard). Yet, Cullen’s goal was to create poems that embraced both black and white culture. Cullen believed that producing writing that reduced the distance between blacks and whites would promote the goal he was trying to achieve. Despite Cullen’s attempt for a “less racial” form of writing, he continued to be a largely racial poet (“Countee Cullen”). His writing reflected the sorrow and problems of the Afro-American community present in America as well as his search to
"Caroling Dusk"
discover his African Heritage. In works such as “Incident” and “What is Africa to me,” Cullen completely grasps these ideas. A successful year in 1926 was followed by another great year for Cullen, in right ("Countee Cullen") This year Cullen published “The Ballad of the Brown Girl” and “From the Dark Tower.” Cullen also published “Caroling Dusk,” an Anthology of Verse of Negro Poets. Cullen’s goal in this anthology was to create a bridge between black and white writing. “Caroling Dusk,” expressed the progress of Harlem as it contained numerous works from young writers of Harlem. This anthology inspired the Harlem community (Shucard).

Countee Cullen felt obligated to supporting African-American art. In 1927, Cullen became furious when white critics failed to understand a black character in “Stigma,” a playwright (Shucard). Yet, Cullen had the same obligation to the African American’s art as to white’s art. Cullen criticized white and black writing the same way. Cullen’s ability to be racially neutral never came across with the public. He was stilled viewed as a racial poet. In 1928, Cullen married Nina Yolande Du Bois, the daughter of W. E. B. Du Bois, an influential leader of the Harlem Renaissance. The married ended abruptly in 1930. Cullen published more works in 1929 such as “The Black Christ and Other Poems.” In this anthology Cullen wrote love poetry which revealed the possibility of him being homosexual. In these poems Cullen expressed the mistrust he felt for women (Canaday).

After his publication of “The Black Christ and Other Poems,” Countee Cullen’s career as a poet slowed. The ninety-thirties brought an end to the work which Cullen is remembered for today. Cullen continued to tackle different aspects of literature and published his only novel, “One Way to Heaven.” The novel wasn’t a success due to its inconsistent plots (Shucard). The novel left Cullen discouraged. Cullen persisted and attempted a career as a teacher. During Cullen’s teaching career, he wrote children books as well as left ("Caroling Dusk") Yet, none of these works had the same effect as Cullen’s Harlem Renaissance work. Cullen realized his position and gathered the poems which he was remembered for. He added these poems to his memorial work, “On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen” (Shucard). The Anthology was published in 1947, one year after his death.

The work Countee Cullen produced during the Harlem Renaissance was not only inspiring to the community but motivating to the famous Harlem figures such as W.E.B Du Bois and Alain Locke. The instigator of the Harlem Renaissance, Du Bois, was very fond of Cullen as he was the definition of “the Talented Tenth (the amount of educated citizens of Harlem).” Cullen also fit the term used by Alain Locke, “New Negro” (“Countee Cullen”). Du Bois and Locke praised Cullen’s abilities as an educated African American. Countee Cullen had an awareness of racial identity, which spoke to his beautifully written poetry. As a figure of Harlem, Cullen knew his position as a role model and encouraged non-racial writing. Cullen believed that the best way to bridge the writing of blacks and whites was to avoid racial writing. Despite Cullen’s inability to follow his own goal, the consciousness that Cullen provided to the community proved his importance in the Harlem Renaissance. Countee Cullen remains a poet who was inspired by his creative society and carried that creativity to others.

Works Cited
Alan, Shucard. “Countee Cullen.” Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Trudier Harris. Vol. 51. Detroit, 2003. 35-46. Dictionary of
Literary Biography. Gale. 26 Oct. 2008 <‌itweb/‌?db=DLB>.

Canaday, Nicholas, Jr. “Religion, Love, and Social Conscience in Countee Cullen’s Poetry.” Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Scott Barbour and David M Haugen. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven, 2003. 120-129.

Chicken and Bones: A Journal. Personal photograph by author. 9 Nov. 2007. 29 Oct. 2008 <‌counteecullen.htm>.

Clinton, Catherine. “Countee Cullen.” I, Too, Sing America. Boston: Houghton, 1998. 81.

“Countee Cullen.” Contemporary Authors Online. Biography Resource Center. Gale. 23 Oct. 2008 <‌itweb/‌?db=BioRC>.

“Countee Cullen.” Famous Poems and Poets. 2006-2008. 29 Oct. 2008 <‌poets/‌countee_cullen/‌photo>.