What follows is a collection of short essays written by graduate students for the Harlem Echoes project. Our goal in presenting these critical works is not to provide a body of definitive readings of McKay’s poetry, the themes in his work, or his adherence (or not) to a certain style or form, but rather to outline potential ways into reading and understanding the work he presents to us in Harlem Shadows. By providing these close readings and formal analyses, we are not working to foreclose discussion from outside the traditional boundaries of the academy, rather we are hoping that these brief and often exploratory critical pieces open up spaces for conversation about McKay’s work in a more public realm.
If our mission in this project focuses on bridging the gap between diverse groups of people from equally diverse backgrounds and works to foreground McKay’s current and historical contexts, these essays should be read as a gateway into exploring Harlem Shadows. Our goals here are to provide a space that allows anyone to begin to critically think about not just the raw affective power of McKay’s verse, but also how his poetry can and does actively speak to readers today.