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Claude McKay , poet, novelist, journalist, and social and political radical, commonly associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Born Festus Claudius McKay, he was the son of relatively prosperous peasants living in upper Clarendon Parish, Jamaica. Around the age of seven McKay went to live with and be educated by his brother, Uriah Theodore, a schoolteacher. There McKay studied classical and British literary figures and philosophers as well as science and theology. He was also encouraged to write poetry and, during his youth, favored conventional English forms. In 1907 McKay met Walter Jekyll, a white British expatriate and folklorist residing in Jamaica, who urged McKay to write dialect poetry rooted in the island’s folk culture. Jekyll remained McKay’s close friend and patron for many years and was instrumental in the publication of McKay’s first two volumes of poetry, Songs of Jamaica (1912) and Constab Ballads (1912). Songs of Jamaica attempts to capture peasant life and language; Constab Ballads is based on McKay’s experiences during a brief period in 1911 as a policeman. Both are primarily in dialect and reveal McKay’s efforts to define his literary voice in form and content.

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