Biography, McKay's Jamaica Years


According to Tyrone Tillery’s Claude McKay: A Black Poet’s Struggle for Identity, Claude McKay was born on September 15th, 1890, in the small village of Sunny Ville, in Clarendon parish, Jamaica (Tillery, 4). Other sources, including William J. Maxwell’s Complete Poems: Claude McKay and Winston James’ A Fierce Hatred of Injustice claim that he was born in 1889, in Nairne Castle, Jamaica (Maxwell, xiii), (James, 3).

A copy of Claude McKay’s birth certificate, listing his birth year as 1889


Clarendon parish

Born “Festus Claudius” (Cooper, 7), McKay was the youngest of eleven children, “eight of [whom]…lived to maturity” (James, 4). He was born to a peasant family who had prospered (Tillery, 4). Maxwell points out that “casual biographies are wrong to endorse [McKay’s] description of himself as a peasant” (Maxwell, xiii), because, although McKay was descended from the Jamaican peasant class, his family was quite affluent by the time of McKay’s birth. As Wayne F. Cooper notes, “[The McKays’ story] was the story of transplanted Africans forced to cultivate an alien soil. They survived to claim it as their own” (Cooper, 1).