English professor Brooks E. Hefner gives talk in Morocco


by Morgan Lyle Aderton


SUMMARY: Brooks E. Hefner, English professor and director of Graduate Studies, spoke at the Tangier American Legation Museum in Morocco.

Brooks E. Hefner, professor and director of Graduate Studies in JMU’s English Department, and Gary Holcomb, professor and chair of Ohio University English Department, traveled to Morocco and France to give talks on Jamaican-American author Claude McKay. 

mckay-square-larger.pngClaude McKay (1889-1948) was a poet and novelist, originally born in Jamaica. After publishing his first book of poetry in Kingston, Songs of Jamaica, he traveled to the United States where he published his second work, Constab Ballads. He then moved to Harlem, New York where he became one of the first African-American poets of the Harlem Renaissance. He is known for his poems, novels and essays that explore topics of race in America and Jamaica. 

In Morocco, Hefner and Holcomb gave the talk “Claude McKay: Letters from Tangier” hefner-tangier-larger.pngat  the Tangier American Legation Museum. Their presentation focused on McKay’s history as a writer of letters, giving particular attention to the letters written during his decade in Europe and North Africa and his time in Morocco. They unpacked McKay’s fascination with Moroccan culture, music and literature, as well as his remarks on the diversity of Morocco’s inhabitants and how these might have influenced his posthumously published novel Romance in Marseille, a story featuring a relationship between a North African woman and a disabled West African man. Placing McKay’s works in a broader context, Hefner and Holcomb explored McKay’s thinking about Morocco’s relationship to the rest of Africa as well as the international personal persecution of McKay by British and French colonial authorities in Tangier, a city known for its spies, which he characterized as an “international wasps’ nest” (Songs of Morocco). 

This talk drew upon research for their upcoming book, Claude McKay: The Letters in Exile, which is scheduled for publication in 2025. 

More from Brooks E. Hefner:

Black Pulp: Genre Fiction in the Shadow of Jim Crow, Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2021

The Word on the Streets: The American Language of Vernacular Modernism. Charlottesville: U of Virginia Press, 2017. 

Editor and Introduction, Black Empire by George S. Schuyler, Penguin Classics, 2023.

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Published: Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Last Updated: Thursday, December 7, 2023

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