Amiable With Big Teeth by Claude McKayAmiable With Big Teeth by Claude McKay

Amiable With Big Teeth

byClaude McKayEditorJean-christophe Cloutier, Brent Hayes Edwards

Hardcover | February 7, 2017

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A monumental literary event: the newly discovered final novel by seminal Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay, a rich and multilayered portrayal of life in 1930s Harlem and a historical protest for black freedom
The unexpected discovery in 2009 of a completed manuscript of Claude McKay’s final novel was celebrated as one of the most significant literary events in recent years. Building on the already extraordinary legacy of McKay’s life and work, this colorful, dramatic novel centers on the efforts by Harlem intelligentsia to organize support for the liberation of fascist-controlled Ethiopia, a crucial but largely forgotten event in American history. At once a penetrating satire of political machinations in Depression-era Harlem and a far-reaching story of global intrigue and romance, Amiable with Big Teeth plunges into the concerns, anxieties, hopes, and dreams of African-Americans at a moment of crisis for the soul of Harlem—and America.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Claude McKay (1889–1948), born Festus Claudius McKay, is widely regarded as one of the most important literary and political writers of the interwar period and the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Jamaica, he moved to the U.S. in 1912 to study at the Tuskegee Institute. In 1928, he published his most famous novel, Home to Harlem, which won ...
Title:Amiable With Big TeethFormat:HardcoverDimensions:352 pages, 9.25 × 6.25 × 1.06 inPublished:February 7, 2017Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143107313

ISBN - 13:9780143107316


Read from the Book

1.". . . Ethiopia Shall Soon Stretch Out Her Hands to God." -Psalms 68:31From 110th to 140th Street, Seventh Avenue on this pleasant Sunday afternoon was a grandly tumultuous parade ground. The animated crowds pushed over the jammed sidewalks into the street. Every stoop was pre-empted by eager groups of youngsters struggling to hold their places and warding off newcomers. Above, the tri-color green-yellow-red of Ethiopia blazoned from many windows. Streamers were thrown at the marchers and confetti fluttered in the air like colored moths. With bands and banners and pompous feet the procession undulated along the avenue. There were Elks and Masons and other fraternal orders, political and religious organizations, social clubs and study clubs-the Ethiopian Students Class, the African Historical Society, the Senegambian Scouts, Ladies' Auxiliaries, children's groups. At intervals resounding claps rewarded some section which attracted special attention by a piece of meretricious music or movement. Near the corner where the procession went down a side street to the church, a huge banner floated over the avenue, bearing the motto: welcome to the prince of ethiopia: envoy of his imperial majesty.As the tail of the march trailed by, the official cars followed at a slow pace. There were three of them, each carrying the Ethiopian flag and the Stars and Stripes. In the first two cars there were the notables of Harlem; in the third the Ethiopian envoy, a slight olive-colored youth with large calf's eyes. The people applauded, clapping, whistling and shouting "God Save Ethiopia!"But as the cars rolled down to the church, from far down the avenue came the echo of a mighty roar. The noise became tumultuous as it surged up the street. "Hey! Hey! Hey! Rey! Rey! Rey!" It was borne along by a bigger crowd escorting an open automobile in which stood a full-sized ebon-hued man, bedecked in a uniform so rare, so gorgeous, it made the people prance and shout with joy. "R-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-y!" The shouting rose to its highest point like the furious sounding of a thousand bagpipes, like a paddock full of horses wildly neighing, like the exuberant flourish of a parade of kettledrums.The lone personage wore a mailed shirt extravagantly covered with golden gleaming arabesques and a wonderfully high shako, white and surmounted by a variegated cluster of ostrich plumes. With his right hand held at salute he smiled triumphantly, almost roguishly. Responding to the thunderous salvos of acclaim, the throng that could not be accommodated in the huge church surged up from the side street to meet the new multitude of the avenue. Thrilled by the tumultuous spectacle, suddenly the saluting dignitary unsheathed his sword and brandished it at heaven. The mass roared in a frenzy while slowly the car threaded through, turning down the side street to the church.The people wondered. Who was the richly bedecked apparition? The ignorant said it was the prince envoy. But others more informed said the envoy had already passed and entered the church with the notables. It was the military aide of the envoy, someone suggested, and the gossip rustled like a wind-blown leaf from mouth to mouth.Inside the immense church the vast audience was startled by the tremendous uproar. The choir had sung the Ethiopian anthem, and stirred by the tumult, which penetrated and filled the church, the audience was restless. Up on the platform sat the dignitaries with the young envoy in the midst of them. They were whispering to one another about the cause of the heightened prolonged cheering, when suddenly they were amazed by the dramatic entrance of the man in uniform. The audience turned and saw him like a medieval knight framed in the portal and it rose with one accord and cheered. The envoy in formal clothes distinguished only by a red slash aslant his breast had not elicited anything approaching this warm welcome extended to the military personage.The chairman of the meeting thought at once that the uninvited notable could not be left unnoticed there among the audience. Besides, he stood there smiling, saluting as if waiting for official recognition. So after hurriedly whispering with a colleague, the chairman dispatched the chief usher to bring the soldier to the platform. Applause pursued him as he marched elegantly, deliberately down the aisle and ascended the platform. There he saluted and bowed to the audience, shook hands with the chairman and took the introduction to the envoy with a deferential bow."Professor Koazhy!" The envoy repeated the name in a low tone, his wide eyes in wonder surveying the uniform. So he was not really a military man, but had thus adorned himself in honor of the occasion, the envoy thought. But he had pleased the crowds, and had been rewarded with an ovation greater than was given to him, the official representative of Ethiopia. Perhaps he too should have worn a uniform, as Pablo Peixota, the chairman, had suggested. But he did not like uniforms and rarely wore one, unless he was attending a state function, and nothing he might have worn could compare with the resplendent splendor of Professor Koazhy's accoutrement. But why did Professor Koazhy choose to wear this barbaric fantastic costume, which was not symbolic of the new spirit of Ethiopia? And how puzzling that that uniform had made such a powerful appeal to the senses of the crowd. For these people were not anything like the tribal Ethiopians, the envoy thought; they were more like European crowds. From the quaint and fanciful accounts he had read, from things he had heard, he had imagined a very different kind of people. These Aframericans-Meanwhile, Chairman Pablo Peixota was calling the great meeting to order. He spoke through a megaphone. Briefly he said that the purpose of the meeting was firstly to give aid to Ethiopia and secondly to welcome the representative of the Emperor. He said Ethiopia was a Holy Land to all Aframericans, that afternoon's glorious demonstration was a proof of their interest. Ethiopia was the ancient lamp of Africa, which should not be extinguished. The Aframerican people had pledged themselves to help keep that lamp burning. They were collecting the funds and sending medical aid. The Emperor of Ethiopia had condescended to send a representative as a token of his goodwill and to give encouragement and inspiration to the efforts of the Aframericans. "Let us show to him the things that we can do and will do. Let us begin in a big way this afternoon."The chairman spoke efficiently but not brilliantly. He was precise, as if he were reading from a manuscript. Next he called upon the minister of the church, the Reverend Zebulon Trawl, to say a prayer for Ethiopia. The minister was of about the same complexion as the envoy, but more heavily built. He prayed rhythmically for Ethiopia, the Emperor and his family, his advisers, his generals and the armies, the confounding of their enemies, the restoration of peace to the land. And lastly he prayed for Aframericans, dropping down to a colloquial and dithyrambic note: "Get busy and do your stuff, brothers and sisters. Begin today, start right now, put your hands in your pockets and not for nothing, bring it up, bring it out, get under your pillow, open the jars in your cupboards, open up the old family Bible where you have some bills pressed down like faded flowers, pennies and nickels and dimes, bring them in for the defense of Ethiopia. The Emperor has honored us here in America, sending to us his personal personable representative." He turned to the envoy. "Never before have our people been honored in such a grand manner. Let us show ourselves worthy of that honor. Mohammed he went to the mountain, and Ethiopia has come to us, to you and to me, to each one of us. Oh, my brothers and sisters, Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands to God."Many voices responded: "God, God! Amen, Amen!"The chairman said he would ask each speaker to be brief, as the long parade had delayed the beginning of the meeting. There were seven speakers besides the envoy: another outstanding preacher, a prominent doctor, a high official of a popular fraternal order, a leader of the Back-to-Africa movement, a university professor, a woman representing the Colored Women's Clubs and a representative of the White Friends of Ethiopia.At last the young envoy, Lij Tekla Alamaya, was announced. He stepped nimbly forward, bowing to the chairman and the other speakers, and was greeted with prolonged cheering. He thanked the people for the warm welcome they had extended to him, as a representative of the Emperor and the people of Ethiopia. He stressed the gratitude of the Ethiopians for Aframerican sympathy and help. He told of the valor of the armies in the field, but that they were fighting a modern war without modern arms. They needed artillery and machine guns, warplanes and armored trucks, uniforms and shoes, medical supplies and doctors and nurses.He described Ethiopia as a land-locked nation unable to communicate with the outside world, except across the territory of hostile or inhospitable nations. But nevertheless the people were courageous and brave as ever, jealous of their great traditions and guarding their ancient faith, the same Christian faith of Aframericans, which had inspired them to rise up and demonstrate to defend Ethiopia as they had today. "I am nothing but the humble servant of my Emperor who has sent me to you in the name of his people. I have come to give you all the information you require about Ethiopia, the Emperor and the Imperial Family and the Imperial Army. Things that are strange and incomprehensible to you, I shall endeavor to make clear. We thank you from our hearts for all the help that you have extended to us. Oh, we need all the help that you have pledged and much more, for the enemy is strong and cunning. My Emperor sent me to you as his humble servant and now I am also your humble servant."Lij Alamaya won a fine ovation. The sympathy of the audience was touched by his slight appealing figure and his rather quaint English which sounded as if he had learned most of it in school in a foreign country. But as the applause died down there were shouts of "Professor Koazhy! Professor Koazhy!" "Let's hear Professor Koazhy." The entire audience voiced the demand and waited expectantly.The chairman could not do less than present the gentleman in his uniformed splendor. And the roar of applause that exploded when he stood up was visibly disconcerting to the notables on the platform. It was greater than they all had received, including the envoy, and it was not funny.Proudly stepping forward amidst the wild plaudits of the audience, and posing erectly-elated to be so signally honored, although he had not been one of the notables invited to participate-he was a perfect picture of triumph. Who else could have conceived and executed his inimitable performance?Professor Koazhy clicked his heels, saluted, paid his respect to Lij Alamaya and the chairman and spoke in a deep kind of preacher's voice. "Some of you here know who I am," he declared, "but I know that the majority are applauding this uniform. That is as it should be. For I did not wear this uniform for merely a gaudy show. I put it on for a purpose-a special purpose. This is the uniform of an Ethiopian warrior. I went through all the trouble and expense of procuring it so that you should have a dramatic idea of why you are gathered here. In this uniform I want you not to see me, but the great warriors of Ethiopia. A long line of them who have fought and died so that their nation should live."Oh, my friends, this is a grand event. And it is a wonderful opportunity for me. Here in your midst in flesh and blood you have an Ethiopian-a Prince of Africa. I pray you, I implore you to realize the significance of it. I have given many years to the study and teaching of African history. The newspapers and the professors mocked me. Yet I am a college man and as good a professor as any of them. It was because I didn't study and teach African history the way they do it in the classrooms. I gave it to those who were hungry for it, the people who came and sat right down at my feet to get it. They said I was funny in the head, that I had an obsession, because I said that African history was as noble and great as European history. To them African history was just an unimportant chip off of European history."But I tell you, my friends, excited and exalted now about Ethiopia, if you knew African history, you would be better equipped to help Ethiopia. How many of you know anything about the real Ethiopia? I tell you, you are ignorant and not only you but the world is ignorant. I have just heard these learned speakers inform you that the kings of Ethiopia are descended from Solomon. I am sorry to correct them, but that is not true, my friends. The dynasty of Ethiopia is older than Solomon; it is older than the Bible."I must humbly apologise to our envoy and prince, but even the Ethiopians themselves today do not know their great history. They imagine that their Emperor is the Lion of Judah because he was descended from the Queen of Sheba. But that is history turned upside down. The Emperor of Ethiopia is the Lion of Judah because many centuries ago the Empire of Ethiopia extended to Egypt across Judea into Persia and India. You must know the truth and Professor Koazhy is here to teach you."You complain and whine about the white man's attitude towards you. I will forgive the white man for all the wrong he has done the black. I will forgive him because the white man has done one good and great thing. The white man has given the black man knowledge, and that is the greatest gift that one man can give another. Take that knowledge and learn from it. Learn about the past as it relates to you and use it to do something about the present. What you should know about yourself is the white man's gift to you. They wrote the truth but they cannot open your blind eyes to see it or make your minds understand. Herodotus, Volney, Champollion, Moret, Budge, Littmann, Frobenius, and a hundred more."What you all should know is also what the Ethiopians should know about themselves. Then they will fight better and you will help more." Professor Koazhy unsheathed the sword and held it up and said: "A sword in the hands of an ignorant man is a dangerous weapon that may destroy him. Knowledge is available. Get it. Learn, learn, and learn more."

Editorial Reviews

“This is a major discovery. It dramatically expands the canon of novels written by Harlem Renaissance writers. More important, because it was written in the second half of the period, it shows that the renaissance continued to be vibrant and creative and turned its focus to international issues — in this case the tensions between Communists, on the one hand, and black nationalists, on the other, for the hearts and minds of black Americans.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.“Claude McKay is such a romantic, questing figure in American literature that he belongs as much to the Lost Generation as he does to the Harlem Renaissance. The dramatic work of his expatriate youth is celebrated, but much less attention has been paid to what he wrote after he returned to New York in the mid 1930s. Indeed, his autobiography, a monumental survey of Harlem, and his occasional pieces were all we knew of his late work. Now two brilliant scholars have discovered McKay's last novel and thereby changed our picture of his closing years. Amiable with Big Teeth also tells us a lot about how black people around the globe responded to the invasion of Ethiopia and the spectre of fascism. McKay is always interesting and always heartbreaking, he is so original and desperate and brave.”—Darryl Pinckney        “As a creative work and a historical document, Amiable With Big Teeth is nothing short of a master key into a world where the intersection of race and global revolutionary politics plays out in the lives of characters who are as dynamic and fully realized as the novel itself (…) For today’s audience, McKay’s last novel should make for fascinating and timely reading as Americans enter an era in which solidarity-building across racial identities and national borders feels more necessary, and perhaps more difficult to achieve, than ever.”—The Atlantic“McKay (1889--1948) has long been considered one of the great authors of the Harlem Renaissance. (…) Scholars and admirers now have a new piece of the oeuvre to admire (…)Amiable With Big Teeth lives up to McKay's reputation.”—TIME “A satire of the political activists and intelligentsia of 1930s Harlem, it is a capstone to the literary career of McKay (1889-1948), considered one of the pillars of the Harlem Renaissance.” —Newsday “As a roman à clef written just a few years after the period it covers, Amiable with Big Teeth reflects that era with an intimacy impossible to capture in a later time—a miraculous feat for a book discovered seven decades later… it inevitably recasts the narrative of Claude McKay’s later years—altering our understanding of a novelist who seemingly wrote his last novel 15 years before his death—and it’s a satisfying rewrite.”—Paste Magazine"To read Amiable today is to discover a lost world that, with its internecine struggles over race and class in New York and elsewhere, may seem equally alien and visceral (...) the novel is an essential window into an overlooked era, when turmoil in Europe and the Depression at home didn't stop Harlem's brightest lights from carrying on with their work."—The Village Voice“Engaging and well-paced.” —Kirkus Reviews