Cullen was born Countee LeRoy Porter on March 30, 1903 in Louisville, Kentucky. At a very young age, he won many poetry contests and often had his winning works published. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1925 from New York University and his Master of Arts degree in English and French from Harvard University in 1927.
Cullen won more literary prizes than any other black writer during the 1920s, with poems such as “Color” (1925), “Copper Sun” (1927), and “The Ballad of the Brown Girl” (1928). From the 1930s until his death, Cullen wrote less, but he did produce the novels “One Way to Heaven” (1931), “The Lost Zoo” (1940), and “My Lives and How I Lost Them” (1942).