Little Known Black History Fact: Lost Claude McKay Novel

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  • Author Claude McKay was a leading black writer in the 1920’s through the 1940’s. His 1922 collection of poetry called “Harlem Shadows” was said to have introduced the Harlem Renaissance. Prior to that, McKay introduced the protest poem “If We Must Die,” in 1919, which was quoted by Winston Churchill. McKay is believed to be the first black writer recognized for writing a best-selling piece of work.

    Claude McKay was born in Jamaica, West Indies in 1889. In 1912, McKay ventured to the United States to study at Tuskegee Institute but left to study agriculture at Kansas State University. As a young man, he was intrigued by Communism, and traveled to Russia and France to gain perspective. After returning to the states, McKay settled in New York in 1934 and concentrated on the Harlem Renaissance.

    Just recently, a student at Columbia University found a lost article written by McKay that had never been published. The 1941 article was called “Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem.” The article talks about the national and international events of World War II and the effect they had on the people of Harlem. McKay used the term “Aframerican,” to describe black people during the time period. The unpublished article was proof that in the second half of the Harlem Renaissance, the movement was still thriving with a focus on the world’s problems, not just those of Harlem, New York.

    After continued extensive research by graduate student Jean-Christophe Cloutier and university advisor Brent Hayes Edwards, along with the assistance of friend Max Eastman, a friend of McKay’s, the scholars were able to verify that the writings were by the respected writer, Claude McKay. They were given permission to publish the McKay article with the inclusion of its discovery and verification process.

    Interestingly, McKay’s final published work was “Banana Bottom” in 1933.

    Claude McKay died in 1948 at age 58.

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