Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem

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Penguin, 2017 - FICTION - 302 pages
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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.


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Suggestions for Further Reading
Ethiopia Shall Soon Stretch Out
The Peixota Home
The Peixota Family
The Emperors Letter
The Branding of a Black Fascist
The Tower and the Airplane
I2 Alamaya Makes His Submission I2 4
I4 Peixotas Humiliation
I6 A Princess of Ethiopia
A PreNuptial Night
I8 Seraphine Discovers the Letter
2O Art and Race 2 19
Alamaya Lands a RealJob
The Leopards Dance

Saying It with Kisses
Mrs Peixota Chaperones Her Daughter
The Emperors Statement II 4
Explanatory Notes
Editors Acknowledgments

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About the author (2017)


". . . Ethiopia Shall Soon Stretch Out Her Hands to God." -Psalms 68:31

From 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

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