Forgotten Harlem Renaissance Novel Discovered

Claude McKay, a Harlem Renaissance writer, was the first black novelist to write a best-seller.

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Claude McKay (Universal/Getty Images)

In the dusty archives of Columbia University recently a graduate student and his supervisor stumbled across an authentic, never-before-seen novel by the Harlem Renaissance author Claude McKay. The West Indian writer and activist, who died in 1948, became the first African American to pen a best-selling book, 1928's Home to Harlem. Now fans of the period will have a fresh chance to reminisce, reports the New York Times.

The manuscript, "Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem," was discovered in a previously untouched university archive and offers an unusual window on the ideas and events (like Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia) that animated Harlem on the cusp of World War II. The two scholars have received permission from the McKay estate to publish the novel, a satire set in 1936, with an introduction about how it was found and its provenance verified.

McKay, a Jamaican-born writer and political activist who died in 1948, at 58 (though some biographies say 57), influenced a generation of black writers, including Langston Hughes. His work includes the 1919 protest poem "If We Must Die," (quoted by Winston Churchill) and "Harlem Shadows," a 1922 poetry collection that some critics say ushered in the Harlem Renaissance. He also wrote the 1928 best-selling novel "Home to Harlem." But his last published fiction during his lifetime was the 1933 novel "Banana Bottom."

"This is a major discovery," said Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard University scholar, who was one of three experts called upon to examine the novel and supporting research. "It dramatically expands the canon of novels written by Harlem Renaissance writers and, obviously, novels by Claude McKay."

Read more at the New York Times.

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