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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Beauford and Countee Cullen

Beauford was strongly influenced by one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance - Countee Cullen.

Countee Cullen
1941 Carl Van Vechten

Beauford was in his twenties when met Cullen. This was during his "Boston years." The two men were introduced by an affluent black couple, the Roscoe Conkling Bruces, who lived in Cambridge during the 1920s.

Cullen obtained his M. A. at Harvard and Beauford was aware of his writing from pieces that Cullen had published in Crisis and Opportunity magazines. Cullen spoke with Beauford about his desire to go to Paris*. He would make the transatlantic voyage in 1928 with funds from a Guggenheim grant.

According to Beauford's biographer, David A. Leeming:

Beauford was fascinated by Cullen, by his somewhat flamboyant style, and by the idea of Paris. The two men maintained a friendship during the 1930s and 1940s, and Cullen collected a few of Beauford's paintings. After ... his return from Paris, Cullen would become a schoolteacher. It is of coincidental interest that he taught beginning French to a junior high school boy who would become one of Beauford's closest friends-the young James Baldwin.

Beauford encountered Cullen again when he moved to New York City. Cullen encouraged him to read works by Harlem Renaissance writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, and Claude McKay. The two men would meet at "306," an address on West 141st Street where black artists and intellectuals gathered to discuss issues and voice concerns. Among those who frequented this address were writers Richard Wright, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes, and artists Jacob Lawrence and Selma Burke.

Beauford and Cullen would never meet in Paris. Cullen died of hypertension and uremia in 1946 and Beauford would journey to Paris for the first time eight years later.

*Palmer Hayden, who visited Paris in 1932, would implant the idea of visiting France in Beauford's already receptive mind.

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