Claude McKay (1889 - 1948)
Claude McKay, a Jamaican-born poet, writer and political activist, received his early education from his older brother, Uriah Theophilus, an elementary school teacher. Walter Jekyll, a white British expatriate and folklorist, made his library available to McKay and shared his knowledge of literature. In 1909, Songs of Jamaica, McKay's first book of verse, was published under Jeckyll's mentorship. By the time McKay left Jamaica in 1912, his second book, Constab Ballads, had also been published.
In 1919 The Liberator, a monthly socialist magazine for which McKay would eventually become associate editor, published his iconic poem "If We Must Die." Though he is considered a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, McKay traveled extensively from 1919 through 1934. He briefly returned to New York in 1921 for the release of his first American-published book of verse, Harlem Shadows, which is now considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance.
McKay published five novels, Home to Harlem (1928), Banjo (1929), Banana Bottom (1933), A Long Way from Home (1937), and Harlem, Negro Metropolis (1940) along with a collection of short stories, Gingertown (1932). Home to Harlem was the first novel by a Harlem writer to become a best seller. He also wrote articles for publications such as Negro World, American Mercury and The Nation. In 2012, McKay's unpublished novel titled Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem was discovered in an archive at Columbia University.
When McKay died in 1948, he had created a literary legacy that influenced many younger black writers of the Harlem Renaissance and the founding generation of the Francophone Negritude Movement.
The Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division contains the Claude McKay letters and manuscripts 1915-1952, which includes correspondence and manuscripts of McKay's works, both published and unpublished, including "Banjo," "Banana Bottom," "Harlem Glory," and "Romance in Marseilles." The Schomburg Center also manages the Claude McKay estate.