Waring Cuney, poet of the Harlem Rennissance
*Waring Cuney was born on this date in 1906. He was an African American poet and composer.
The son of Norris Wright Cuney II and Madge Louise Baker, William Waring Cuney was born in Washington, DC. His father, who was educated in Galveston, Texas and attended the Howard University Law School, worked for the federal government until his death. His mother graduated from the Minor Normal School and taught in the Washington DC school system. William Waring Cuney graduated from D. C.’s Armstrong High School, then attending Howard University, Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and the Conservatory in Rome.
Cuney decided soon after his formal voice training that he would not pursue a career in singing, but would focus his energies on his writing. It is because of his interest in music and his formal training that he so adeptly incorporated the ballad and blues form into his poetry. Cuney did not use his musical talents or training to perform professionally; however, he did write lyrics that were performed by others. For instance, Joshua White recorded some of his later poems of protest on the album, “Southern Exposure.”
Cuney and Langston Hughes were classmates and friends at Lincoln University. They were both active as poets while in college, submitting works locally on campus and to magazines and contests nationally. Cuney also received recognition in the Opportunity Literary Contests of 1926 and 1927. He was awarded one-half of the first and second prizes in 1926 for the poem, “No Images.” The following year he received the second honorable mention in the Alexander Puskin Section for the poem, “A Traditional Marching Song,” and the third honorable mention in the Poetry Category for “De Jail Blues Song.” Cuney wrote “No Images,” one of his trademark works when he was eighteen. His poems works were not collected until late in his career. The first collection, Puzzles, was not published until 1960, the second collection, Storefront Church, in 1973.
His poems reflect racial concerns and themes that are delivered through folk speech, rhythms, and moods of the ghetto. He is the consummate artist when it comes to drawing vivid sketches of character with brevity and clarity of words. Cuney, as he was better known among his contemporaries, is often referred to either as one of the minor poets of the Harlem Renaissance or one of the “second echelon” poets of the New Negro Movement. However, among his contemporaries he was considered one of the favorites of the Renaissance group.
Waring Cuney died on June 30, 1976.
Hayden, Lucy Kelly
“William Waring Cuney,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography. vol. 51
Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940
Edited by Trudier Harris (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1987).