William Waring Cuney

1906–1976

William Waring Cuney was born in Washington, DC, in 1906. He attended Howard University and graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania before deciding to pursue a career in singing; he attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and from there went to Rome. Cuney never performed professionally and eventually switched his focus to writing. When he was eighteen, his poem “No Images” won a prize in the Opportunity poetry contest. “No Images” remains a significant representation of the basic philosophy of the Harlem Renaissance and has been widely anthologized and translated; it is Cuney’s most famous poem.

Cuney’s poems of the middle and late 1930s were recorded by Josh White as “Southern Exposure,” and others were set to music by Al Haig and Nina Simone.  During World War II, Cuney served in the South Pacific as a technical sergeant in the army, where he earned three bronze battle stars. After the war, Cuney made his home in the Bronx, and in 1960, Cuney came out with Puzzles, a limited edition book of poems for a Dutch literary society, with eight two-color woodcuts by Ru van Rossen; two years later he would withdraw from public life and from all contact with friends, including Langston Hughes. In 1972 Cuney emerged in response to an insult from John Oliver Killens, who called Cuney’s religious verse “irreverent.” The following year, his collection of poems, Storefront church, was published in London.

Cuney died in 1976.

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Poetry Off the Shelf
  • Listen No Images
    Celebrating Black History Month with William Waring Cuney, Cornelius Eady, and Thomas Sayers Ellis.

Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

LIFE SPAN 1906–1976

Biography

William Waring Cuney was born in Washington, DC, in 1906. He attended Howard University and graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania before deciding to pursue a career in singing; he attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and from there went to Rome. Cuney never performed professionally and eventually switched his focus to writing. When he was eighteen, his poem “No Images” won a prize in the . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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