The Man, Claude McKay

Tuesday, September 18, 2012    

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LAST Friday, Claude McKay High School celebrated the 123rd birthday of the pioneer after who they were named. Here's a bit of biography on one of Jamaica's and the world's more treasured sons.

Writer and poet extraordinaire, Festus Cladius McKay is regarded as one of Jamaica and the West Indies' most beloved intellects.

Born September 15, 1889 to Thomas McKay and Hannah Edwards, he spent his early academic years attending basic school at his church. His parents sent him to live with his brother, where he developed a love for reading and writing. This began to take shape between ages 10 and 15.

By 1912, at the age of 23, Claude McKay published his first collection of poems, Songs of Jamaica -- notably, the first ever Patois-poem publication -- with the assistance of Walter Jekyll, who had taken on the role of mentor. His next publication Constab Ballads was printed shortly before he left the island, where he served as a police officer, for the United States.

Arriving in the US, his poems became an even greater voice on social commentary and the surprising racism he witnessed provided a compelling topic to highlight.

While working in New York as a waiter, he met Max and Crystal Eastman, who not only brother and sister, but also the producers of the socialist magazine The Liberator. During this time, he published what will arguably be noted as his most accomplished poem If We Must Die, speaking on the racial turmoil that was taking place during the latter months of 1919. He is recognised as key figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's.

He moved to the United Kingdom in 1919 and a year later, he became a journalist for the Workers' Dreadnought. This feat has him recognised by many as the first black journalist in Britain.

He died in Chicago at the age of 59. His career spans a long list of poems and four novels.

— Compiled by Devaro Bolton



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