A Long Way From Home / Edition 1

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Claude McKay (1889–1948) was one of the most prolific and sophisticated African American writers of the early twentieth century. A Jamaican-born author of poetry, short stories, novels, and nonfiction, McKay has often been associated with the “New Negro” or Harlem Renaissance, a movement of African American art, culture, and intellectualism between World War I and the Great Depression. But his relationship to the movement was complex. Literally absent from Harlem during that period, he devoted most of his time to traveling through Europe, Russia, and Africa during the 1920s and 1930s. His active participation in Communist groups and the radical Left also encouraged certain opinions on race and class that strained his relationship to the Harlem Renaissance and its black intelligentsia. In his 1937 autobiography, A Long Way from Home, McKay explains what it means to be a black “rebel sojourner” and presents one of the first unflattering, yet informative, exposés of the Harlem Renaissance. Reprinted here with a critical introduction by Gene Andrew Jarrett, this book will challenge readers to rethink McKay’s articulation of identity, art, race, and politics and situate these topics in terms of his oeuvre and his literary contemporaries between the world wars.

Journey from Jamaica through New York, Europe, Africa, revolutionary Russia, and back to America in the autobiography of a founding forces in Black literature.

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Meet the Author

Gene Andrew Jarrett is an assistant professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the author of Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature.
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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
Part 1 American Beginning
Chapter I A Great Editor 3
Chapter II Other Editors 26
Chapter III White Friends 35
Chapter IV Another White Friend 45
Part 2 English Inning
Chapter V Adventuring in Search of George Bernard Shaw 59
Chapter VI Pugilist Vs. Poet 66
Chapter VII A Job in London 73
Chapter VIII Regarding Reactionary Criticism 86
Part 3 New York Horizon
Chapter IX Back in Harlem 95
Chapter X A Brown Dove Cooing 116
Chapter XI A Look at H. G. Wells 121
Chapter XII "He Who Gets Slapped" 130
Chapter XIII "Harlem Shadows" 147
Part 4 The Magic Pilgrimage
Chapter XIV The Dominant Urge 153
Chapter XV An Individual Triumph 167
Chapter XVI The Pride and Pomp of Proletarian Power 172
Chapter XVII Literary Interest 185
Chapter XVIII Social Interest 191
Chapter XIX A Great Celebration 206
Chapter XX Regarding Radical Criticism 226
Part 5 The Cynical Continent
Chapter XXI Berlin and Paris 237
Chapter XXII Friends in France 253
Chapter XXIII Frank Harris in France 265
Chapter XXIV Cinema Studio 272
Chapter XXV Marseilles Motley 277
Part 6 The Idylls of Africa
Chapter XXVI When a Negro Goes Native 295
Chapter XXVII The New Negro in Paris 306
Chapter XXVIII Hail and Farewell to Morocco 324
Chapter XXIX On Belonging to a Minority Group 342
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  • Posted January 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    "'And what are you?' the detective asked. 'Nothing, Sir,' I said with a big black grin.'"

    "'And what are you?' the detective asked. 'Nothing, Sir,' I said with a big black grin'" (Ch. 7). The detective was British. The year was 1920. The city was London. The immediate setting was the newspaper office of Lydia Pankhurst's radical the Workers' Dreadnought. The young man with the big black grin was Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay. He recounts the incident in his 1937 autobiography, A LONG WAY FROM HOME. *** After years in the USA, studying in college and working, McKay had gone to England. He published there a book of verse, SPRING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE and hob-nobbed with important Brits, especially radical leftists. McKay's brief run-in with Scotland Yard came when he was writing for the Dreadnought. His boss, Ms Pankhurst, was arrested and did jail time for undermining the morale of the British Armed Forces. McKay was never detained by police in England. But "Pankhurst's arrest was the beginning of a drive against the Reds" (Ch. 7). *** On balance, Claude McKay's time in England was not happy. Critics were wary of love poetry written by a black man. To McKay, however, "the love poetry of a Negro might be in better taste than the gory poetry of a civilized British barbarian like Rudyard Kipling" (Ch. 8) *** Claude McKay built upon an older American literary genre, the life stories of runaway slaves and other American black folk reflecting on the 500-year old African diaspora. Although more simmering than boiling over with rage against white mistreatment of blacks everywhere but in the USSR, Spain, Marseilles and North Africa, McKay's autobiography records incident after incident of white cruelty or at best insensitivity to black self-consciousness and black men's desire to be proud of their race. "It is hell to belong to a suppressed minority and outcast group" (Ch. 29). *** McKay traveled far and wide and left incisive sketches of great men and women whom he encountered, from Leon Trotsky to George Bernard Shaw, critics Frank Harris and Max Eastman, to Isadora Duncan, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White and other writers black and white. The narrative is nicely structured, selective of facts rather than exhaustive in detail. World War I, the Red Summer of 1919, the Spanish Civil War, the NAACP, the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro and much more were all experienced and commented on by a shrewd, eloquent observer. Read A LONG WAY FROM HOME and receve a healthy dose of informal adult education. -OOO-

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