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Claude McKay
Based on a handout from Mrs Kim's class

Claude McKay was born the son of farmers in Jamaica in 1889. The youngest of eleven children, he was sent to liev with his oldest brother, a schoolteacher, in order to receive the best education possible. He began to write poetry at the age of ten and caught the attention of Walter Jekyll, an Englishman residing in Jamaica. Jekyll became his mentor, encouraging him to write in dialect verse, and by the time McKay immigrated to the US in 1907, he had already established himself as a poet. He enrolled in Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he first encountered the harsh realities of racism in America, which would later form the foundation of much of his writing. In 1914 he moved to New York and married his childhood sweetheart, Eulalie Imelda Lewars. However, after financial difficulty, Lewars had to return to Jamaica to give birth to their daughter, and McKay was forced to take a series of menial jobs. He was finally able to publish two poems in 1917 (moving from Jamaican dialect to standard English), and his talent was noticed by Max Eastman, the editor of The Liberator, a socialist journal that became instrumental in his career. He was encouraged to obtain writing experience in England, where he was introduced to many influential left-wing journalists and wrote for the trade union journal Worker's Dreadnought. While in London McKay read the works of Karl Marx and became a devoted socialist. In 1921, McKay returned to New York and became an associate editor of The Liberator, and in 1922, he published his best-known volume of verse, Harlem Shadows. That same year, he traveled to the Third International in Moscow where he represented the American Workers Party and became known as a sympathizer to the Bolshevik Revolution. He spent the next twelve years abroad, first in Russia, then in various places in Europe, and finally in Morocco. During this period, he wrote and published three novels, along with a collection of short stories. His financial situation in Morocco forced him to return to the United States in 1934. Although he had gradually lost faith in communism, he remained a socialist and published many essays and articles, and completed an autobiography after gaining acceptance to the Federal Writers Project in 1936. He became a US citizen in 1940, but heart disease and high blood pressure lead to a stady physical decline. In a move that surprised his friends, McKay abandoned his lifelong agnosticism and joined the Catholic Church. He died in 1948, but his poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance.

Maxwell, William. Claude McKay. University of Illinois. 3 February 2004.
Miller, Nelson. Harlem Shadows: The Poems of Claude McKay. 3 February 2004.

A sample of Claude McKay's Poetry.