on claude mckay’s ‘Amiable with big teeth’

Amiable-coverVaughn Rasberry at Public Books:

In the mid-1930s, amid the Second World War and the Great Depression, competing forms of internationalism—the Communist International, Black Internationalism, the League of Nations—defined the political zeitgeist. In the United States as elsewhere, writers, artists, and activists weighed the possibilities and constraints of these and other formations, as individuals felt increasingly compelled to take a stand in world affairs. Yet even at a time when countless intellectuals embraced an internationalist politics, the cosmopolitan career of Jamaican-born writer Claude McKay stands out.

His extended sojourns took him from Jamaica to Tuskegee to New York City, then to London, Marseille, Moscow, and Morocco, among many more locales; and the global savoir faire borne of this nomadism infuses his final and recently discovered novel, Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair between the Communists and thloe Poor Black Sheep of Harlem, written by McKay in 1941 and unearthed in a Columbia University archive in 2009 by Jean-Christophe Cloutier, then a graduate student.

Expertly edited by Cloutier and Brent Hayes Edwards, the publication of Amiable with Big Teeth is indeed a monumental literary event, as the book’s dust jacket claims. The magnitude of this event, though, has less to do with the novel’s unforgettable gallery of Harlem’s politicos and tricksters and literati, or its time capsule depiction of black diaspora solidarity—unexpected literary gifts, to be sure—than with its treatment of a quirky but crucial conundrum: the puzzling nature of the relationship, or “love affair,” between blacks and Communists during the peak of internationalist activism.

more here.