Claude McKay: A Black Poet's Struggle for Identity

By Tyrone Tillery | Go to book overview
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THE BLACK Renaissance of the 1920s was marked by a widespread tendency toward self-analysis. For many of the Renaissance writers, such self-analysis proved to be a painful experience. The debates over the many questions surrounding the literary movement forced many of the writers to struggle with the question of their own identity.1 Increasingly, following the publication of Banjo in 1929, McKay began to ask himself the questions where did he belong and where was his life headed?

From 1924 until 1930, McKay's life had been without any sense of order and stability, as he moved from one place in France to another. In 1924 he lived in Toulon for a year; then he moved to Paris in 1925, where he remained until 1930. All the while, McKay lived a loner's life, finding it difficult if not impossible to relate to other people. "I'm a son of a bitch," he wrote Walter White. "I really like so few people, those I can like, I prize dearly." Yet even these McKay managed to keep at a distance in order to "examine them with the artist's aloofness."2

He had virtually severed all contacts with his only child, Rhue Hope, and his family in Jamaica. And aside from Eastman, he had little contact with his white friends from the old Liberator staff. The whites he generally wrote to were patrons, whom he privately held in utter contempt. "Most patrons," he wrote, "are typical Americans. I have no sentiment for them, I just take their money. I love it." McKay felt they richly deserved the contempt in which he held them. They were the typical bourgeois that dominated all progressive movements in America. Living in small communities, bound by restrictions, they associated with radical movements, endeavoring to find that license their own society denied them.3 However, like most artists, McKay was obliged to keep such sentiments to himself.

While his circle of white friends dwindled, his problems with African Americans had grown (at least in McKay's mind), increasing McKay's sense of isolation and ultimately creating ten


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