Today is the birthday of American Romantic poet COUNTEE CULLEN (d: 1946). He was one of the leading African American poets of his time, associated with the generation of black poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Surely, Cullen's race created problems for his creative expression, but his sexuality posed even greater dangers. Although married to W. E. B. DuBois's daughter Yolande early in life and Ida Roberson only six years before his death, Cullen had a steady string of male lovers in the United States and France. Furthermore, Cullen was a premier member of a thriving Gay coterie in Harlem.
Cullen and most Gays of the period were, understandably, closeted publicly. This closetedness worked to protect Cullen from certain discrimination while it also held a firm grip on his creative imagination. Although difficult to decipher, the influence of Gayness on Cullen's literary imagination can be seen through the coded references to homosexuality in much of his poetry. From his earliest attempts, Cullen developed a multifarious poetry that, on the surface, followed the British Romantic tradition. Cullen's break from these writers can be seen in his use of racial themes and in the complex integration of male-male relationships as a significant though veiled subject.
In Color, for example, the poems "Tableau," "The Shroud of Color," "Fruit of the Flower," "For a Poet," and "Spring Reminiscence" can be classified as Gay poems in which the speaker decries the oppression of those who are different. Copper Sun (1927), Cullen's next book of verse, has several thinly veiled Gay poems, including "Uncle Jim," "Colors," and "More Than a Fool's Song." "The Black Christ" (1929) was Cullen's attempt to write an epic poem on the subject of lynching.
This 900-line piece exemplifies Cullen's brilliant poetic layering of racial and Gay themes. The main character, Jim, can be viewed not only as the persecuted black who is falsely accused of rape, but also as the victim of heterosexism. When Jim is lynched at the end of the poem, Cullen puts him in the company of Lycidas, Patroclus, and Jonathan--all characters who have had long-standing associations with Gay readings of their respective texts. In many ways, "The Black Christ" is key to Gay re-readings of Cullen's poetry; for, in this text, we are alerted to the homosexual coding that marks the earlier poems as well as many in The Medea and Some Poems (1935).
Understanding Cullen's poetry in the context of the Gay closet in which it was written is the cornerstone on which to rebuild Cullen's reputation as a Gay poet laureate and as the inaugurator of a black Gay male poetic tradition.
Mexican poet, GUADALUPE "PITA" AMOR was born (d: – 2000). She wrote as Pita Amor, and during her lifetime was known for her rebelliousness and audacity in her lifestyle. She was a friend of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and María Félix. She was also one of Frida Kahlo's lovers. Pita Amor was called "The 11th Muse."
Her poetry, influenced by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz ("The 10th Muse") and Francisco de Quevedo, is notable for its direct expressions about metaphysical issues stated in the first person. She died in Mexico City a legend at the age of 81.
Today was the birthday of French politician BERTRAND DELANOË. He was born in Tunis and became mayor of Paris in March 2001. On October 5th, 2002, Delanoë was stabbed by a Muslim who declared he hates politicians and homosexuals.
JOAN OF ARC burned at the stake for heresy. Her "crimes" included cross-dressing and inappropriate relationships with women. Today is the feast day of St. Joan of Arc.
Homosexual British playwright and poet CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE died of a knife wound to the head at age 29.
The representative assembly of New Jersey made sodomy a capital crime. Exceptions were made for victims of rape and those under 14 -- they could not be executed but could be sentenced to whatever other punishment the court deemed appropriate.
The New York Times carried a story about a German scandal which began after magazine editor Maximillian Harden published an article suggesting that COUNT KUNO VON MOLTKE and PRINCE PHILIP EULENBURG were lovers. The article led to a libel suit against Harden, who was fined by the court despite witnesses who swore that the account was true.
The Nebraska legislature overrode Governor James Exon's veto of legislation to repeal the state's sodomy law. You got that? The legislature voted for an anti-sodomy law...the Governor vetoed it...and the legislature over-rode the veto. All in a day's work, huh guys?
Columnist and "bow-tied twit", to quote Kurt Vonnegut, George Will applauds Anita Bryant and condemns gay rights ordinances as "part of the moral disarmament of society."
AARON FRICKE wins his Rhode Island court battle, and takes a male date, PAUL GUILBERT, to his senior prom.
Subscribe to Gay Wisdom
Would you like to have Today in Gay History (aka Gay Wisdom) sent to you daily?