Born: Clarendon, Jamaica, 1889. Died: Chicago, Illinois, 1948.
Claude McKay was educated in Jamaica by his older brother, who possessed a library of English novels, poetry and scientific texts.
In 1912, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica (Gardner), recording his impressions of Black life in Jamaica in dialect. That same year, he traveled to the United States to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He remained there only a few months, leaving to study agriculture at Kansas State University.
In 1917, he published two sonnets, “The Harlem Dancer” and “Invocation,” and later used the form in writing about social and political concerns from his perspective as a Black man in the United States. McKay also wrote on a variety of subjects, from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love, with a use of passionate language.
During the twenties, McKay developed an interest in communism and traveled to Russia and then to France, where he met Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sinclair Lewis. In 1934, McKay moved back to the United States and lived in Harlem, New York. Losing faith in communism, he turned his attention to the teachings of various spiritual and political leaders in Harlem, eventually converting to Catholicism.
McKay’s viewpoints and poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger Black poets of the time, including Langston Hughes. He died on May 22, 1948.