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Claude McKay

Biography

Jamaican Authors & Artists

Date of Birth (DOB): 9/15/1890
Died: 5/22/48
From: Jamaica
Best Known for: Author and Poet

Bio: Born Festus Claudius McKay the youngest of 11 children to farmers Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards in Sunny Ville, Clarendon, Jamaica McKay was sent to live with his oldest brother, a schoolteacher. McKay was an avid reader as a child and began writing poetry at the age of 10. At the age of 17, after a brief career in the constabulary, McKay was encouraged by Walter Jekyll, an Englishman living in Jamaica to write verse in the Jamaican dialect. By the time he migrated to the United States in 1912, McKay had already published to volumes of poetry in his dialect, “Songs of Jamaica” and “Contab Ballads” both published in 1912.

He studied at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and the Kansas State College in Manhattan, Kansas. In 1914 he moved to New York City and invested unsuccessfully in a restaurant. He married his childhood sweetheart Eulalie Imelda Lewars who returned to Jamaica the following year to give birth to their daughter. McKay continued to work in NYC and eventually published two poems , "Invocation" and "The Harlem Dancer," in 1917. His interest in Socialism led to a position as editor at the socialist journal, The Liberator. McKay wrote one his best-known poems “If We Must Die” in 1919 in resistance to the ‘Red Summer’ a period of intense violence against blacks in the US.

In 1919 McKay traveled to England and resided there for 3 years working for a British Socialist Journal. He lived throughout Europe, Russia and Africa over the 12 years. In 1928 his first novel, “Home To Harlem” became moderately successful, and was followed by the less successful novel “Banjo. He moved to Morocco in 1930 where he remained for 4 years before returning to the US. In 1937 he published his Autobiography “A Long Was From Home”. He became a US Citizen in 1940 and left NYC for Chicago in 1944 where he lived for the remainder of his years.

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