Even though he is probably best known as a poet, Claude McKay’s verse makes up a relatively small portion of his literary output. Although his novels, Home to Harlem (1928), Banjo: A Story Without a Plot (1929), and Banana Bottom (1933), do not place him at the forefront of American novelists, they were remarkable at the time for their frankness and slice-of-life realism. Home to Harlem was the first best-selling novel of the Harlem Renaissance, yet it was condemned by the majority of black critics, who felt that the black American art and literature emerging in the 1920’s and 1930’s should present an uplifting image of the African American. McKay, however, went on in his next two novels to express his admiration for the earthy ways of uneducated lower-class blacks, somewhat at the expense of black intellectuals. The remainder of McKay’s published fiction appears in Gingertown (1932), a volume of short stories.
McKay also produced a substantial body of literary and social criticism, a revealing selection of which appears, along with a number of his letters and selections from his fiction and poetry, in The Passion of Claude McKay: Selected Poetry and Prose, 1912-1948 (1973), edited by Wayne F. Cooper. An autobiography, A Long Way from Home (1937), and an important social history, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940), round out the list of his principal works.