Claude McKay (1889-1948) was a Jamaican-born poet and author who is widely regarded as one of the key literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance. McKay's work influenced Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. He is best known for his poems "If We Must Die" and "Harlem Shadows" and his first novel, Home to Harlem (1928). Until recently it was believed his novel Banana Bottom, published in 1933, was his last. However, in 1941 McKay sent the full manuscript to a novel titled Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem to Samuel Roth, a Columbia alum whose papers were later donated to the university. While working as an intern at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, then-graduate student Jean-Christophe Cloutier found the manuscript among Mr. Roth's papers and brought them to his advisor, Brent Hayes Edwards. After the pair confirmed the novel was indeed written by McKay the book made news as a major literary discovery. Henry Louis Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard described Amiable as "a major discovery" for expanding the canon of Harlem Renaissance novels in addition to those of Mr. McKay and extending the known timeline of the Harlem Renaissance because of its later date.
If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us 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!