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Romance in Marseille
The pioneering novel of physical disability, transatlantic travel, and black international politics. A vital document of black modernism and one of the earliest overtly queer fictions in the African American tradition. Published for the first time.
A Penguin Classic
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice/Staff Pick
Vulture's Ten Best Books of 2020 pick
Buried in the archive for almost ninety years, Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille traces the adventures of a rowdy troupe of dockworkers, prostitutes, and political organizers--collectively straight and queer, disabled and able-bodied, African, European, Caribbean, and American. Set largely in the culture-blending Vieux Port of Marseille at the height of the Jazz Age, the novel takes flight along with Lafala, an acutely disabled but abruptly wealthy West African sailor. While stowing away on a transatlantic freighter, Lafala is discovered and locked in a frigid closet. Badly frostbitten by the time the boat docks, the once-nimble dancer loses both of his lower legs, emerging from life-saving surgery as what he terms "an amputated man." Thanks to an improbably successful lawsuit against the shipping line, however, Lafala scores big in the litigious United States. Feeling flush after his legal payout, Lafala doubles back to Marseille and resumes his trans-African affair with Aslima, a Moroccan courtesan. With its scenes of black bodies fighting for pleasure and liberty even when stolen, shipped, and sold for parts, McKay's novel explores the heritage of slavery amid an unforgiving modern economy. This first-ever edition of Romance in Marseille includes an introduction by McKay scholars Gary Edward Holcomb and William J. Maxwell that places the novel within both the "stowaway era" of black cultural politics and McKay's challenging career as a star and skeptic of the Harlem Renaissance.
Claude McKay (1889-1948), born Festus Claudius McKay, is widely regarded as one of the most important literary and political writers of the interwar period and the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Jamaica, he moved to the United States in 1912 to study at the Tuskegee Institute. In 1928, he published his most famous novel, Home to Harlem, which won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature. He also published two other novels Banjo and Banana Bottom, as well as a collection of short stories, Gingertown, two autobiographical books, A Long Way from Home and My Green Hills of Jamaica, and a work of nonfiction, Harlem: Negro Metropolis. His Selected Poems was published posthumously, and in 1977 he was named the national poet of Jamaica. In 2009, his lost manuscript for the 1930s novel Amiable with Big Teeth was discovered among the archived papers of Samuel Roth at Columbia University, and was published for the first time in 2017 by Penguin Classics.
Gary Edward Holcomb is the author of Claude McKay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance (2007) and is the coeditor of Hemingway and the Black Renaissance (2012).
William J. Maxwell is the author of the American Book Award-winning F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature (2015) and New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars (1999). He is the editor of the first-ever edition of McKay's Complete Poems (2004) and of James Baldwin: The FBI File (2017).