OMNES : The Journal of multicultural society

Current Issue

OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 9 , No. 1

[ Article ]
OMNES: The Journal of Multicultural Society - Vol. 9, No. 1, pp.90-109
ISSN: 2093-5498 (Print)
Print publication date 31 Jan 2019
Received 14 Nov 2018 Revised 14 Dec 2018 Accepted 21 Dec 2018

“Dwelling-in-Travel”: The Politics of Space and Culture in Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem
Mario Laarmann
Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany


Contemporary scholarship on Jamaican-born writer and poet Claude McKay, an influential figure of the Harlem Renaissance, seems to be unanimous in approaching his work through a lens of inter- or transnationalism. Thereby, mainly two aspects are often emphasized: First, his traveler’s life which he has documented in his autobiography A Long Way from Home, and second his political position, traceable in both his fictional and his non-fictional publications. This essay explores a third aspect of McKay’s transnationalism: his politics of culture and identity. Assuming that experiences and practices of groundedness and movement go along with an understanding of the self, I analyze McKay’s 1928 novel Home to Harlem and argue that the built-in paradox James Clifford calls “dwelling-in-travel” is not only evident in the novel’s politics of space, but can also be traced in its politics of gender relations and his representation of race.

Keywords: Claude McKay, Home to Harlem, transnationalism, space, gender, black diaspora, Harlem Renaissance

1. Bernabé, J., Chamoiseau, P., & Confiant, R. (1993). Éloge de la Créolité / In praise of Creoleness (M. B. Taleb-Khyar Trans.). Paris: Éditions Gallimard. (In French).
2. Clifford, J. (1988). The predicament of culture: Twentieth-century ethnography, literature, and art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
3. Clifford, J. (1997). Routes: Travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
4. Doyle, L. (2011). Atlantic modernism at the crossing: The migrant labours of hurston, McKay and the diasporic text. In L. Platt (Ed.), Modernism and race (pp. 116-136). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. DuBois, W. E. B. (1928). Two novels: Nella Larsen, Quicksand & Claude McKay, Home to Harlem. Crisis, 35(6), 202.
6. Edwards, B. H. (2003). The practice of diaspora: Literature, translation, and the rise of black internationalism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
7. Ellis, N. (2015). Territories of the soul: Queered belonging in the black diaspora. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
8. Gilroy, P. (1993). The black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness. London & New York: Verso.
9. Graham, S. (2013). Black Atlantic literature as transnational cultural space. Literature Compass, 10(6), 508-518.
10. Hall, S. (1990). Cultural identity and diaspora. In J. Rutherford (Ed.), Identity: Community, culture, difference (pp. 222-237). London: Lawrence & Wishart.
11. Jay, P. (2010). Global matters: The transnational turn in literary studies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
12. Makward, E. (1992). Claude McKay: The African experience. In A. L. McLeod, Claude McKay centennial studies (pp. 94-105). New York: Sterling Publishers Private Limited.
13. McKay, C. (1937). A long way from home. New York: Lee Furman, Inc.
14. McKay, C. (1987). Home to Harlem. Boston: Northeastern University Press. (Original work published 1928).
15. McKay, C. (2004). Note of Harlem. In W. J. Maxwell (Ed.), Complete poems (pp. 235-236). Champaign: University of Illinois Press. (Original work published 1934).
16. Nickels, J. (2014). Claude McKay and dissident internationalism. Cultural Critique, 87, 1-37.
17. Piep, K. H. (2014). ‘Home to Harlem, away from Harlem’: Transnational subtexts in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem. Brno Studies in English, 40(2), 109-121.
18. Salkey, A. (2009). Escape to an autumn pavement. Leeds, UK: Peepal Tree Press. (Original work published 1960).
19. Selvon, S. (1956). The lonely Londoners. London: Pearson Longman.
20. Stephens, M. (2003). Re-imagining the shape and borders of black political space. Radical History Review, 87, 169-182.
21. Stephens, M. (2005). Claude McKay and Harlem, black belt of the metropolis. In M. Stephens. Black empire: The masculine global imaginary of caribbean intellectuals in the United States, 1914-1962 (pp. 129-165). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
22. Vadde, A. (2017). Stories without plots: The nomadic collectivism of Claude McKay and George Lamming. In A. Vadde. Chimeras of form-modernist internationalism beyond Europe, 1914-2016 (pp. 108-148). New York: Colombia University Press.
23. Vogel, S. (2009). The scene of Harlem cabaret: Race, sexuality, performance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Biographical Note

Mario Laarmann holds a B.A. and an M.Ed. from the University of Cologne, Germany, where he studied English and French philology. His focus is on literature, media, and cultural studies. He has also been studying for one year at the University of Reunion Island, for one semester at Monash University, Melbourne, and has spent one semester as an international student researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in French and Francophone Studies at Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, and preparing for a Ph.D. in comparative Caribbean literature with a focus on Earl Lovelace and Patrick Chamoiseau. E-mail: (