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Claude McKay (1889–1948) was a Jamaican-American writer and poet who was a seminal figure during the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that celebrated African American cultural contributions during the 1920s and 1930s and was integral in shaping the post-World War I era literary and artistic culture.

Born in Jamaica, McKay was first influenced by the dialect poetry of his homeland and the works of British Romantics. He began his writing career with two volumes of poetry mainly in Jamaican dialect, which garnered him initial recognition. However, it was after his migration to the United States that his work took on a more political tone, as he started to address issues of race and class more directly.

McKay is often associated with the New Negro Movement, more commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry and other writings significantly impacted this movement, and he was one of its most ardent and critical voices. McKay's work during this period sought to address the injustices and hardships African Americans faced in the United States. His poetry from this era resonated with the frustrations, aspirations, and dignity of Black lives and the broader experiences of the African diaspora.

His 1922 collection "Harlem Shadows" is considered one of the important works of the Harlem Renaissance, containing some of his most celebrated poems, including "If We Must Die," which is an eloquent response to racial violence and an assertion of Black resistance and dignity. This poem was notable for its universal appeal, as it transcended the particular circumstances of Black Americans to touch on a more global human experience, and it has been taken up by various oppressed groups throughout the twentieth century.

McKay's themes often revolve around the complexities of Black identity, the pain and beauty found within the Black experience, and the struggles against racial, political, and social oppression. His work not only reflected the sentiments of the Harlem Renaissance but also anticipated the concerns and styles of the later Civil Rights Movement and Black Arts Movement.

In terms of influence, McKay played a crucial role in shaping the Harlem Renaissance's literary style. His work influenced a generation of African American writers by demonstrating the power of art as a means of protest and social commentary. Additionally, McKay's engagement with leftist ideas and his travels to the Soviet Union underscored the global dimension of racial issues, connecting them with broader themes of class and inequality.

Though McKay did not receive many honors during his lifetime compared to his literary contributions, his work has been increasingly acknowledged for its artistry and its critical role in Black intellectual and literary history. He was honored posthumously by the Jamaican government with the Order of Jamaica for his contribution to literature.

In conclusion, Claude McKay's poetry and other writings are critically acclaimed for their artistic vigor and their insightful portrayal of the Black experience in America. His work was instrumental in the Harlem Renaissance, providing a powerful voice against injustice and advocating for social and political change. McKay's poetry continues to be celebrated for its emotional depth, its mastery of form, and its historical significance.

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