A pioneer of Afro-modernism across the Atlantic world, the Jamaican-born Claude McKay (1889-1948) qualified as a diehard bohemian, globetrotting social radical, so-called playboy of the Harlem Renaissance, and the author of poems, novels, memoirs, and political commentary. His earliest books, Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads, both published in 1912, introduced Jamaican creole as a serious language for modern poetry. His stirring Shakespearian sonnet “If We Must Die” (1919) is often identified as the inaugural poem of the Harlem movement; his initial American poetry collection, Harlem Shadows (1922), contains much of the Standard English verse that James Weldon Johnson described as “one of the principal forces in bringing about the Negro literary awakening.” The uninhibited novel Home to Harlem (1928), written in France while McKay feared interference from the FBI and other state intelligence agencies, became the first black bestseller of the New Negro era. McKay’s long string of literary “firsts” helped to make him the first African American author to be tracked in an FBI file of his own. Ranging from 1921 to 1940, this file is particularly concerned to document McKay’s 1922-23 pilgrimage to the Soviet Union, the home of the Marxist revolution he later called “the greatest event in the history of humanity.”
FBI documents studying Claude McKay.
Material is in the public domain.
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