“Harlem Shadows comes first because it is a book of many firsts. It was the Jamaican-born McKay’s first and only American poetry collection; the first substantial poetic volume, if not the first published book, of the Harlem Renaissance; and more self-indulgently, the first work of McKay’s I fell in love with…Published in experimental modernism’s wonderful year of 1922, Harlem Shadows dramatizes what became the Renaissance’s contrary habit of reinvesting standard-issue, seemingly white forms with groundbreaking Black content. Less generically, the collection reflects the simultaneous presence of Black Marxism, Caribbean immigration, nostalgic pastoralism, and breakneck urbanization on the Harlem scene. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown is not the only recent reader to note that none of McKay’s varied love poems in Harlem Shadows ‘would have been written if he had not been queer.’ Alongside its other firsts, the collection qualifies as early testimony that the Renaissance would be, in the words of Henry Louis Gates, ‘surely as gay as it was black’—and not ‘exclusively either of these.'” Read more...
The best books on The Harlem Renaissance
William J. Maxwell,