Griffin Oleynick, “Prophet of Harlem: The Conversion of Claude McKay,” in Commonweal, July 7, 2017
“Early on in J. F. Powers’s 1947 short story ‘The Trouble,’ a distressed African-American intellectual recites a few lines of poetry in response to a horrific act of violence he has just witnessed: ‘If we must die,’ said the man with the glasses on, ‘let it not be like hogs hunted and penned in an inglorious spot…. We must meet the common foe; though far outnumbered, let us still be brave, and for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! What, though before us lies the open grave? Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying—but fighting back!’
The lines, as the precocious narrator—a small African-American boy whose mother has just been injured in a race riot—soon learns, belong not to the bespectacled speaker, but instead to a famous black ‘poetryman,’ Claude McKay. Deeply moved by the defiant verses, the inquisitive child resolves to discover all he can about their author: ‘I decided I would go to the public library when the riot was over, and it was the first time in my life I ever thought of the public library the way I did then.’” READ the complete article: “Prophet of Harlem: The Conversion of Claude McKay”
The Claude McKay Collection at Beiencke Library is described online: Claude McKay Collection Finding Aid
Griffin Oleynick recently completed a year of postdoctoral study as scholar-in-residence at Saint Thomas More, the Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University, and was a visiting fellow at Yale Divinity School. He has also taught in the Department of Catholic Studies at Sacred Heart University.
The Beinecke Library encourages scholars, students, and the public to engage the past in the present for the future. In the service of new scholarship, the library offers generous fellowships for visiting scholars and for graduate students to support research in a wide range of fields. Learn more about fellowship opportunities.