Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Claude McKay work on queer love to hit shelves today

Published:Tuesday | February 11, 2020 | 12:19 AM

A previously unpublished work by noted Jamaican author Claude McKay that has languished for almost 90 years will be posthumously released today by Penguin Classics.

Romance in Marseille unearths complex ideas about the 1920s movement, postcolonialism, and queer love, a talking point that was not widely a subject of literary works of that vintage.

McKay, a pioneering figure of the Harlem Renaissance, is best known for his works Home to Harlem, Banjo, and Banana Bottom.

The manuscript Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem was published in 2017, eight years after it was discovered.

Dr Lisa Tomlinson, lecturer in the Institute of a Caribbean Studies at The University of the West Indies, Mona, said that McKay’s sexuality has always been the subject of literary criticism.

One such critique is that of Lindsay Tuggle, A Love So Fugitive and So Complete: Recovering the Queer Subtext of Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows. Tuggle posited that much of his work has been reproduced in anthologies but “his homoerotic love poems have been largely excluded”.


“The Caribbean has been shifting in the way we assess sexuality. If it is being geared towards a Caribbean or Jamaican audience, I think it will reignite because of the topic – looking at queer. That’s not an area that’s generally dealt with in Caribbean literature, even though it exists, ”Tomlinson said in an interview with The Gleaner.

The Harlem Renaissance writer was influenced by his Caribbean sensibilities and created a distinct black voice, said Tomlinson, author of The African-Jamaican Aesthetic: Cultural Retention and Transformation Across Borders.

“They didn’t see him fully as a Harlem Renaissance writer, because his writing wasn’t always just writing about the black heart.

“He was very multidimensional and it wasn’t until later on when his work really started to speak to black Americans and a wider cross section of the black world where he began to be accepted,” Tomlinson said.