A Rediscovered Poet

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In the early 1900’s, two Jamaicans, almost exact contemporaries, arrived in New York and influenced the course of African American life: in 1916, Marcus Garvey, who organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association; and in 1914, Claude McKay, one of the main inspirers of the Harlem Renaissance, the 1920’s cultural development of the arts and literature that, though it lasted for only a decade, permanently influenced the course of black self-expression in the United States. Both men died in relative obscurity after their fame had diminished; Garvey’s reputation has since declined, so that he is now known to few except scholars, but McKay’s has steadily increased, so that he is considered one of the ornaments of African American literature. He has been posthumously proclaimed Jamaica’s national poet, and he has been the subject of an international conference of literary scholars. McKay has retained his stature as both poet and fictionist, even though he was attacked for his presentation of black life in Home to Harlem (1928) by the distinguished black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, for his left-wing political sympathies and activities by the Howard University philosopher Alain Locke (who is sometimes regarded as the mentor of the Harlem Renaissance), and for his ultimate conversion to Roman Catholicism. Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countée Cullen, and Langston Hughes also helped in the development of modern African American poetry, but only Hughes...

(The entire section is 491 words.)