McKay, Festus Claudius ‘Claude’ (1889–1948) By Frölich, Sören
Claude McKay was a Jamaican poet, novelist, essayist, activist, and editor. He is best known for his involvement in the New Negro movement of the early twentieth century (also known as the Harlem Renaissance). He helped introduce radical politics and a sophisticated use of Primitivism into African-American literature and wrote important political poems like ‘If We Must Die’. Today McKay is best known for his 1928 novel Home to Harlem. A lifelong traveller, he provided crucial connections between US racism and international struggles. He also was an avid Marxist and associated with the Communist Party until late in life, when he converted to Catholicism. He angered and alienated writers, critics, and even friends with his aversion to the black elites and genteel literary critics. Long valued as an exponent of Primitivism in the Harlem Renaissance, in recent scholarship he has been recognized for his radical poetry, his writings in Jamaican Patois, his international efforts, and his theoretical considerations of race and gender to political struggles of black working people across and beyond the United States.