William Waring Cuney (May 6, 1906—June 30, 1976) is the author of two books of poems, both released late in his life: Storefront Church (1973), published in London, and Puzzles (1960), published in Holland. Born and raised in DC, he attended DC Public Schools, Howard University, and Lincoln College in Pennsylvania. With Langston Hughes and Bruce McM. Wright, he co-edited Lincoln University Poets: Centennial Anthology (1954). Individual poems of his were included in several anthologies, including Caroling Dusk, edited by Countee Cullen, and The Book of American Negro Poetry, edited by James Weldon Johnson. He was active in the literary salon of Georgia Douglas Johnson, and a poem of his, “No Images,” shared first prize in a national poetry competition sponsored by Opportunity Magazine in 1926, when he was 18 years old. The following year, two of his poems won honorable mentions in that same competition.
Cuney was an accomplished musician and composer as well as a poet; after graduating from Lincoln, he attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and the Conservatory in Rome, although he never performed professionally. In the 1930s, several of his poems were set to music by Al Haig and Nina Simone, and recorded on the album Southern Exposure by Josh White, considered one of the first musical recordings of the Civil Rights movement.
Cuney served in the army in WWII, as a technical sergeant in the South Pacific, earning three bronze battle stars. After the war, he settled in New York, and remained largely out of public view. It is not known if his reclusive lifestyle at the end of his life was by choice, or the result of post-traumatic stress, or some other personal reason, but it is in direct contrast to the deep friendships of his early days in DC, when many writers, including Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Langston Hughes spoke so warmly of his friendship, encouragement, and selfless support of others.
To read more about this author:
Brian Gilmore on Waring Cuney: Memorial Issue