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Claude McKay
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Poet
    (September 15, 1889-May 22, 1948)
    Born in Clarendon, Jamaica
    Birth name was Festus Claudius McKay
    Harlem Renaissance poet and novelist
    Best known poem was 'If We Must Die' (1919)
    Poetry collections include 'Songs of Jamaica' (1912), 'Spring in New Hampshire and Other Poems' (1920), 'Harlem Shadows' (1922) and 'Selected Poems' (1953)
    Wrote the novels 'Home to Harlem' (1928), 'Banjo' (1929) and 'Banana Bottom' (1933)
    Became a naturalized US citizen (1940)
    Although associated with the Harlem Renaissance, he was actually in Europe (1919-34) when the movement was at its peak.
    He praised Communism after a tour of the Soviet Union (1923-24).
    W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that 'Home to Harlem' ' for the most part nauseates me, and after the dirtier parts of its filth I feel distinctly like taking a bath.'
    James Weldon Johnson wrote, 'Claude McKay's poetry was one of the great forces bringing about what is often called the Negro Literary Renaissance.'
    'Home to Harlem' was the first best-selling novel in America written by a black man.
    He became the first black journalist in Great Britain when he wrote for the socialist newspaper 'Workers Dreadnought' (1920-22).
    He became disillusioned with Communism (and largely embraced Roman Catholicism instead).
    His 'If We Must Die,' written in response to race riots, demonstrated its universality when it was adopted as a World War II rallying cry by Winston Churchill.

Credit: C. Fishel


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