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Peake, Jak

Peake, Jak

Senior Lecturer in literature @ Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex


Jak Peake is a Fulbright scholar and Senior Lecturer in literature in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. His monograph, Between the Bocas: Towards a Geography of Western Trinidad, was published by Liverpool University Press (2017). His current research examines early twentieth-century Caribbean-New York literary networks. Recent publications include: a book chapter ‘Cyril Briggs: Guns, Bombs, Spooks and Writing the Revolution’, in Revolutionary lives of the Red and Black Atlantic since 1917, edited by David Featherstone, Christian Høgsbjerg and Alan Rice (2022); a book chapter, ‘Island Relations, Continental Visions, and Graphic Networks’ in The Cambridge History of Harlem Renaissance Literature (2021); and a journal article, ‘“Watching the Waters”: Tropic Flows in the Harlem Renaissance, Black Internationalism and Other Currents’ in Radical Americas (2018).

Geographical location : Essex, UK

Research Area and Interest : early twentieth-century Caribbean-New York literary networks

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Opportunity Knocks for the Caribbean


Claude McKay’s Sojourner Poems, French Ventures and Tropical Remembrances
Summary: Caribbean writers and issues were always on the Harlem scene during the 1920s. In September 1920 The Crisis had a special issue on Haiti, and in December 1925 the landmark publication The New Negro: An Interpretation prominently featured Caribbean writers. Our panel focuses on the next major publication of this kind, the Caribbean issue of the journal Opportunity, published in November 1926. Opportunity was the journal of the National Urban League, and the key figure for this issue was Eric Walrond, who had been the journal’s business manager since August 1925. The general premise behind the panel is that a deep reading of a single issue of a journal – particularly an issue with a single focus – can reveal much about the actual, historical and contemporaneous, concerns of that moment. Claude McKay contributed three poems, ‘Desolate’, ‘My House’ and ‘America in Retrospect’ to the Opportunity special issue. All three received honourable mentions in the magazine’s second literary contest, named the Holstein Prizes after the funder, Virgin Islander, Casper Holstein. Rather like McKay himself, McKay’s poems could be considered ‘sojourners’ – albeit temporarily – in that they travelled considerably before finding a ‘home’. Passing between various magazine editors, and literary friends, including Walter White and James Weldon Johnson, the poems would eventually make their way to Eric Walrond and Charles S. Johnson at Opportunity. This paper offers a reading of McKay’s Opportunity poems against the backdrop of their sojourns, transatlantic crossings and literary networks, paying special attention to the print culture of the magazine.

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