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Claude McKay collection

Call Number: JWJ MSS 27

Scope and Contents

The Claude McKay Collection consists of letters, manuscripts, personal papers, subject files, photographs and memorabilia documenting the life and work of the Jamaican born writer Claude McKay. The collection spans the years 1853-1990, with the bulk of the material dating from 1922-1948.

The collection is housed in 21 boxes and organized into six series: Correspondence, Writings, Personal Papers, Subject Files, Photographs and Memorabilia. Boxes 20-21 contain Oversize material and Restricted Fragile Papers.

Series I, Correspondence , is organized into two subseries: General Correspondence and Publishers Correspondence.

General Correspondence, housed in boxes 1-7, consists largely of incoming correspondence. There is correspondence from many well known writers and figures in the African-American community from the first half of the 20th century, including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Carl Van Vechten, Harold Jackman, and to a lesser extent, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Bennett and Alain Locke. Other writers found in the collection are Nancy Cunard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson, Charles Henri Ford, Jacques Roberti, Louis Guilloux, Albert Halper and Ammon Hennacy. There is also correspondence with family and friends, most notably Max Eastman.

Most of the outgoing correspondence in this subseries consists of carbons dating from the mid-late 1930s, after McKay had returned to New York from Morocco. There is correspondence to Sterling A. Brown regarding work with the Federal Writers' Project, and to several others soliciting recommendations for Guggenheim fellowships. There are original letters, however, to Harold Jackman and to Carl Cowl. The correspondence with Jackman dates from the late 1920s, when McKay lived in France, and resumes in the mid 1930s. In early letters McKay often asks for favors, such as books, and the letters touch on a variety of topics, McKay's work and publications, other writers and friends, and race. The correspondence with Cowl, McKay's literary agent from early 1947, deals primarily with the agent's efforts to find publishers for the manuscripts to The Selected Poems of Claude McKay and My Green Hills of Jamaica.

The General subseries includes some third party correspondence, the bulk of which is to Carl Cowl and to McKay's daughter, Ruth Hope McKay Virtue. These letters are arranged by correspondent and noted in the folder description.

The Publishers subseries, housed in box 8, includes McKay's correspondence with publishers and all third party correspondence with publishers previously identified as "publishers miscellaneous." Here too the bulk of the third party correspondence is with Carl Cowl and relates to publication of The Selected Poems of Claude McKay and My Green Hills of Jamaica.

Series II, Writings , is organized into eight subseries: Articles, Essays and Reports, Autobiographical Information, Blurbs, Books, Notes and Notebooks, Poetry, Stories and Writings of Others. The first seven subseries are arranged alphabetically by title. Writings of Others is arranged first by author and then by title.

The Articles, Essays and Reports subseries, housed in box 9, brings together various pieces of non-fiction, most in draft form, as well as a few polemical newspaper articles, dating from the early and late 1930s, in which McKay responds to critics of his literary work and views on labor. Autobiographical Information consists of a long statement on the selection of the original photograph for the book jacket to the 1940 E. P. Dutton publication of Harlem: Negro Metropolis, and includes a list of journals and magazines to which McKay contributed. The Blurbs subseries consists of a single printed advertisement.

The Books subseries, housed in boxes 9-11, brings together McKay's novels, autobiographical writings, and short story and essay compilations. There is a draft of Harlem: Negro Metropolis, and early, revised and final drafts of My Green Hills of Jamaica, McKay's autobiography of his youth, published postumously in 1979. There is also a manuscript entitled "New Novel" which, according to Wayne Cooper's introduction to The Passion of Claude McKay (1973), appears to be a draft of an unpublished novel, "Romance in Marseilles," written in Spain in 1930.

The Notes and Notebooks subseries consists of three holograph notebooks and one folder of loose notes.

Poetry, housed in boxes 11-13, includes manuscripts of published and unpublished collections, as well as drafts and printed versions of individual poems, all arranged alphabetically by title. Most of the individual poems in this subseries appeared in journals and/or published collections and many are also present in the manuscripts for The Selected Poems of Claude McKay.

The Stories subseries includes draft and printed versions of "Dinner in Douarnenez," and the printed version of a collection of stories, translated from the Russian back into English, under the title Trial by Lynching. The Writings of Others subseries brings together all work by other writers, related and unrelated to McKay, and includes articles, reviews, poems and other forms. There are two short printed articles on the subject of cricket, in Australian sources, which may be by McKay or another individual with the same name.

Series III, Personal Papers , housed in boxes 14-16, is organized into eight subseries: Books, Clippings, Financial and Legal Records, Invitations and Announcements, Material Relating to McKay's Death and Burial, Medical and Health Records, Postcards and Other. Most of the material in this series was gathered by McKay in his lifetime. The material relating to McKay's death and burial was acquired by gift from his daughter after his death. Obituaries can be found within the Clippings subseries.

Series IV, Subject Files , housed in box 17, is organized into two subseries: Individuals and Organizations, and Topical. The Subject Files consist almost entirely of clippings, some from French newspapers, dating, when evident, from the late 1920s, but most from American papers dating from the mid and late 1930s. They reflect McKay's interests in liberal politics, labor issues and race, and reveal his continued interest in the countries in which he resided while abroad. There is overlap between the assigned subseries.

Series V, Photographs , housed in box 18, is organized into five subseries: Family, Snapshots of McKay, Other People, Places, and Other. There are some photographs of family and friends, but the two largest groups of photographs in this series are those taken while living and traveling abroad and studio portraits of well known musicians and figures in the African-American community. McKay was well received in Soviet Russia in the early 1920s and there are photographs of Lenin, Trotsky and other high ranking party officials, of McKay with members of the Russian Naval Academy and other groups, and of McKay addressing the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in the Throne Room at the Kremlin in Moscow. Many photographs of friends and photographs taken in Russia are inscribed to McKay. Most of the unidentified photographs in the Places subseries are probably of Morocco.

There are additional photographs in the Memorabilia series.

Series VI, Memorabilia , housed in box 19, is organized into five subseries: Material Relating to the Order of Jamaica Award, Material Relating to the McKay Tribute, Material Relating to the McKay Dedication, Material Relating to the McKay Centennial, and Material Relating to the McKay Conference. The first subseries consists of a photograph and copies of addresses made at the presentation of the Order of Jamaica awarded to McKay in 1978. The second subseries consists of printed material and clippings from the December 12, 1979 ceremony held at Claude McKay Secondary School, located in James Hill, Clarendon, Jamaica to celebrate the publication of My Green Hills of Jamaica. The third subseries consists of memorabilia from a memorial dedication held at the same school exactly one year later, on December 12, 1980. There are clippings, photographs, program materials and souvenirs, including t-shirts, pens and pencils, documenting the unveiling of a monument in his honor. The fourth subseries consists of printed material and clippings celebrating the centenary of McKay's birth. And the fifth subseries consists of printed material and photographs from an international conference on McKay sponsored by the Institute of Commonwealth and American Studies and English Language in India.

Oversize material, housed in box 20, includes items from Series I-VI. Restricted Fragile Papers are housed in box 21.


  • 1853 - 1990
  • Majority of material found within 1922 - 1948


Language of Materials

Chiefly in English; some materials in French.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 21-22: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Folders 697-700 (negatives): Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Claude McKay Collection is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Claude McKay Collection was acquired primarily by purchase and gifts from Ruth Hope McKay Virtue, McKay's daughter, from 1964-1991. Original letters from McKay to others appear to have come into the collection with the original purchase in 1964. Additional gifts have been made by Liliane Blary, Sister Mary Conroy, Wayne Cooper and William Schenck.


12 Linear Feet ((22 boxes) + 1 cold storage)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Claude McKay Collection consists of correspondence, writings, personal papers, photographs and memorabilia documenting the life and work of Claude McKay.

CLAUDE MCKAY (1890-1948)

Claude McKay was a Jamaican-born writer who spent most of his adult life in the United States, Europe and North Africa. He wrote several collections of poetry, novels, short stories, non-fiction and two autobiographical books. He is best known for an early poem, "If We Must Die" (1919), and his first novel, Home to Harlem (1928). He lived in the United States, primarily in New York, from 1913-1919, and then spent most of the next 15 years in England, Russia, France, Spain and Morocco before returning to New York in 1934. He contributed to many liberal and socialist journals, including Sylvia Pankhurst's Worker's Dreadnaught and Max Eastman's The Liberator, and he is commonly identified among the major writers of the Harlem Renaissance. He converted to Catholicism in 1944 and died in Chicago in 1948. See the standard biographical print resources for additional information.

Processing Information

Gifts have been made to this collection since it was originally processed and previously unsorted material has been fully processed. Specifically, Memorabilia from tributes to McKay is reflected in Series VI and the Subject Files and Photographs are reflected in Series IV and Series V respectively.

Guide to the Claude McKay Collection
by Beinecke Staff
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.