Jamaican-born author and poet Claude McKay died in 1948, but his name is in the news as anticipation builds for the release of his book “Romance in Marseille,” to be published by Penguin Random House on February 11.
Described as “ahead of its time” by The New York Times, McKay reportedly started writing the manuscript in 1929 and put it down in 1933. “Romance in Marseille” is a novel about “physical disability, transatlantic travel and Black international politics,” according to the publisher, which calls it “a vital document of Black modernism and one of the earliest overtly queer fictions in the African-American tradition.”
Set in the Jazz Age, mostly at the Vieux Port in Marseille, France, the novel follows dancer Lafala, a stowaway on a transatlantic freighter, who loses both of his legs to frostbite after being locked in a frigid closet. He then wins a huge lawsuit against the liner for the tragedy. “He’s writing about the underclass,” Diana Lachatanere of the Faith Childs Literary Agency, which handles McKay’s estate, told The Times.
As history celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, it’s fitting that one of its most important figures offers up a never seen narrative on the Black experience.