JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Charles Molesworth, author of And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countee Cullen
(University of Chicago Press)
It is the first full-length biography of the Harlem Renaissance poet, Countee Cullen. It relies on documentary evidence from the Cullen archive (located at the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans) and deals with all of his writings, published and unpublished, as well as his friendships with people like Langston Hughes and Claude McKay.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write “And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countee Cullen”?
Charles Molesworth: The inspiration came in large part from writing my earlier book, a biography of Alain Locke, who was Cullen’s friend and mentor. But I have also taught and enjoyed Cullen’s poetry for decades.
JP: What sets “And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countee Cullen” apart from other books in the same genre?
C.M.: Cullen’s life was marked by tremendous early fame as a poet (in the 1920’s and 40’s), and then his reputation declined. Because I had access to his archive, I could trace his development and career, and overcome some of his shyness and reserve.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to “And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countee Cullen” getting out to the public?
C.M.: All books need to be publicized. Some have greater publicity budgets. Some deal with fads. Some take a while to be noticed. One has to be both persistent and lucky. I have talked about “And Bid Him Sing” at Busboys and Poets, the D.C. bookshop, but the audience was small.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish “And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countee Cullen”?
C.M.: Because Cullen died relatively young (at age 42), and because all his papers are in one location, “And Bid Him Sing” took only three years to research and write.
JP: What’s next for Charles Molesworth?
C.M.: I am hoping to write a book about the relationship – difficult but illuminating – between J. Pierpont Morgan, the world-famous financier, and Roger Fry, the renown art critic and historian whom Morgan hired to be a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book will deal with the relationship between money and art.
The book was reviewed in the Jan/ 18 issue of the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) and received a starred review from Booklist. Its jacket features a portrait of Countee Cullen by Winold Reiss, who painted and drew many famous people from the Harlem Renaissance.