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Introducing Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille with Dr. William J. Maxwell

The Stowaway Era and the Hard-Boiled Harlem Renaissance: Introducing Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille

Join the John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies for a talk with Dr. William J. Maxwell on Claude McKay's novel Romance in Marseille, which had been buried in the archive for almost 90 years. Books available for purchase.


The pioneering novel of physical disability, transatlantic travel, and black international politics. A vital document of black modernism and one of the earliest overtly queer fictions in the African American tradition. Published for the first time.

A Penguin Classic

Buried in the archive for almost ninety years, Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille traces the adventures of a rowdy troupe of dockworkers, prostitutes, and political organizers–collectively straight and queer, disabled and able-bodied, African, European, Caribbean, and American. Set largely in the culture-blending Vieux Port of Marseille at the height of the Jazz Age, the novel takes flight along with Lafala, an acutely disabled but abruptly wealthy West African sailor. While stowing away on a transatlantic freighter, Lafala is discovered and locked in a frigid closet. Badly frostbitten by the time the boat docks, the once-nimble dancer loses both of his lower legs, emerging from life-saving surgery as what he terms “an amputated man.” Thanks to an improbably successful lawsuit against the shipping line, however, Lafala scores big in the litigious United States. Feeling flush after his legal payout, Lafala doubles back to Marseille and resumes his trans-African affair with Aslima, a Moroccan courtesan. With its scenes of black bodies fighting for pleasure and liberty even when stolen, shipped, and sold for parts, McKay’s novel explores the heritage of slavery amid an unforgiving modern economy. This first-ever edition of Romance in Marseille includes an introduction by McKay scholars Gary Edward Holcomb and William J. Maxwell that places the novel within both the “stowaway era” of black cultural politics and McKay’s challenging career as a star and skeptic of the Harlem Renaissance.


William J. Maxwell is Professor of English and African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where he has taught modern American and African American literatures since 2009. He is the author of the books F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature (Princeton University Press, 2015), which won an American Book Award in 2016, and New Negro, Old Left: African American Writing and Communism between the Wars (Columbia University Press, 1999). He is the editor of the collection James Baldwin: The FBI File (Arcade, 2017); of Claude McKay’s Complete Poems (University of Illinois Press, 2004); and, along with Gary Holcomb, of Claude McKay’s previously unpublished novel Romance in Marseille (Penguin Classics, 2020).  His more than sixty essays and reviews have appeared in academic and popular journals including African American ReviewThe American Historical Review, American Literary HistoryAmerican LiteratureCallalooHarper’sThe Irish Times,The Journal of American HistoryModernism/modernityPoliticoPublishers WeeklySalon, and the London Times Literary Supplement.  



Wednesday, February 26 at 3:00pm to 5:00pm

Gordon White Building (GWB), 2.206
210 24TH ST W, Austin, Texas 78705

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