#Festus Claudius “Claude” McKay was known for being a seminal figure during the Harlem Renaissance. He was best known for his novels: “Banana Bottom”, “Banjo, and “#Home to Harlem” which was his best-seller that won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature. He was also the author to several other poems and literary works.
Mckay was born in Nairne Castle near James Hill, Clarendon, Jamaica and was the youngest child of Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards, who were well-to-do farmers. Mckay arrived in the United States in 1912 to attend Tuskegee Institute. He was shocked by the racism he encountered in Charleston, South Carolina where public facilities were still segregated. He didn’t stay at Tuskegee long because of the semi-military style that existed on campus. So, he left to attend Kansas State University but later still dissatisfied moved to New York. Once in New York he reconnected with a childhood sweetheart and they married.
He published two poems in 1917 under the pseudonym Eli Edwards while working on the railways. In 1919, he met Crystal and Max Eastman, who produced The Liberator, where McKay served as co-executive editor until 1922. One of Mckay’s most well-known poems, was entitled “If We Must Die”, which was written at a time when the “Red Summer” was occurring was quoted by Winston Churchill during World War II.
McKay’s most famous work was published in 1928, Home to Harlem. The novel described the street life in Harlem and would have great impact on #Black intellectuals across the globe. However, not everyone was pleased with the book. W.E.B Du Bois did not like the novel because of its depictions of sexuality and the night light displayed in it. However, the art in the book showcases the truth about the lives during that time about Black people. He received the McKay became an American citizen in 1940 and converted to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in 1944. He died from a heart attack at the age of 59. He is known for influencing other great writers such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright.