BBC Radio 3: Free Thinking
Claude McKay and the Harlem Renaissance
From a farming family in Jamaica to travelling in Europe and Northern Africa, the writer Claude McKay became a key figure in the artistic movement of the 1920s dubbed The Harlem Renaissance. Publishing under a pseudonym, his poems including To the White Friends and If We Must Die explored racial prejudice. Johnny Pitts has written an essay about working class community, disability and queer culture explored in Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille, which was published for the first time in 2020. Pearl Cleage’s play Blues for an Alabama Sky is set in 1930s New York. The African-American playwright is the daughter of a civil rights activist, and has worked as speechwriter for Alabama’s first black mayor, founded and edited the literary magazine Catalyst, and published many novels, plays and essays. Nadifa Mohamed’s novels include Black Mamba Boy and her most recent The Fortune Men (shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize). They talk to Shahidha Bari about Claude McKay and the flourishing of ideas and black pride that led to the Harlem Renaissance.
Producer: Tim Bano