Cuney was one of a pair of twins born on May 6, 1906, in Washington D.C. His father, Norris Wright Cuney II, worked for the federal government. His mother, Madge Louise Baker, taught in the D.C. public school system. Cuney attended the D.C. public schools, graduating from Armstrong High School. He attended Howard University for a time before earning his B.A. at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He also studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and the Conservatory of Music in Rome.
n 1926, while Cuney was still a student at Lincoln University, his poem “No Images” won first prize in a competition sponsored by Opportunity magazine. The poem poignantly portrays a black woman’s internalization of European standards of beauty. It has been widely anthologized and is considered a minor classic of the New Negro Movement.
Cuney’s work was largely forgotten in the United States by the 1950s, it was translated into German and Dutch and developed a following in Europe. He published only two volumes of poetry in his lifetime: Puzzles, a limited edition published in the Netherlands in 1960, and Storefront Church, published in London in 1973. He died in New York City on June 30, 1976.