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Gary Edward Holcomb

Gary Edward Holcomb, portrait
Professor & Chair
Bentley Annex 311, Athens Campus


Gary Holcomb in OHIO News

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Literary scholar unearths Harlem Renaissance novel


Ph.D., English, Washington State University, 1995

M.A., English, California State University, Long Beach, 1988

B.A., English, CSULB, 1984


Gary Holcomb’s scholarship concentrates chiefly on the Harlem Renaissance, with much of his research and writing being on the radical poet, fiction writer, and memoirist Claude McKay. Holcomb’s first book, Claude McKay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance (University Press of Florida, 2007), is widely regarded as a foundational work in bridging Modernist, queer, left, and Black transnational studies. Reviews appeared in such journals as American Literary History, African American Review, American Literature, Callaloo, and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Holcomb's most recent writing on McKay appears in the September 11, 2023, Los Angeles Review of Books: "Zeal, Wit, and Fury: The Queer Black Modernism of Claude McKay."

Holcomb and Brooks E. Hefner, James Madison University, are currently co-editing Claude McKay: The Letters in Exile, forthcoming from Yale University Press in Spring 2025. Carried on with many of the leading figures of the Modernist period and dispatched from the United States, France, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, and Spain, the Jamaican émigré author’s probing, impassioned, candid letters are assured to enrich a range of critical fields. The American Legation in Tangier has invited Holcomb to help organize an exhibit and speak on McKay’s years in the Moroccan city in November 2023. And in December, The Banjo Society-Claude McKay at Aix-Marseille Université is bringing Holcomb to speak on the letters for the Colloque Claude McKay: Passage and Crossings in Marseille, France, another city McKay lived in and set two novels.

For nearly twenty years, Holcomb worked to get into print McKay’s unpublished, circa 1929-1933 Romance in Marseille. Major Manhattan publishers during the Great Depression period rejected the revolutionary novel largely due to its sexually enlightened imagery. At long last, in 2018, he and co-editor William J. Maxwell, Washington University, St. Louis, signed with Penguin Random House to edit the manuscript. Holcomb and Maxwell supplemented the Penguin Classic with an extensive scholarly introduction and annotations, informed by a wide range of published and archival materials, with McKay’s letters playing the key role. New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House hosted a book release celebration in February 2020. Available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook, Romance in Marseille has sold upwards of fifteen thousand copies and two thousand ebooks worldwide.

Romance in Marseille’s publication was a national phenomenon. The New York Times printed several articles hailing its arrival, including an Arts section preview, “A Book So Far Ahead of Its Time, It Took 87 Years to Find a Publisher,” and feature, “Penguin Classics and Other Works to Diversify Offerings from the Canon.” A full-page analysis appeared in The New York Times Book Review, and the Penguin was selected for the NYTBR’s Editor’s Choice/Staff Picks. Other Manhattan media that praised the novel for its groundbreaking portrayal of Pan-Africanist, disabled, and LGBTQ+ countercultures include The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and New York magazine’s “Vulture” section, where it placed third on the list of “10 Best Books of 2020.” The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Dirda prized the Penguin Classic for its resonance with a contemporary readership.

Romance in Marseille was celebrated internationally, as well, with reviews and features appearing in such publications as The Guardian, The London Review of Books, and The Sydney Morning Herald. The novel was the topic of several BBC World audio programs, including Radio 3’s Arts & Ideas and BBC Sounds’ A Good Read. Cultural and news sites across the globe, including in Argentina, Greece, Italy, and India, also praised the book’s arrival. CBC/Radio Canada’s national interview show Q invited Holcomb to discuss at length the Great Depression-period novel’s contemporary impact. The Jamaica Gleaner, the newspaper that over a century ago hailed McKay’s nation language poetry, published an editorial asserting that the novel’s arrival should inspire the abolition of Jamaica’s longstanding, homophobic anti-sodomy law.

In academic, activist, and literary spheres, Romance in Marseille has been welcomed as a major step forward in Black, queer, disability, and leftist studies. The Los Angeles Review of Books excerpted two chapters, and an interview with Holcomb and Maxwell appeared in a subsequent LARB issue. Academic reviews have appeared in American Literary History, American Communist History, and The Modernist Review. LGBTQ+ activist site Lambda Literary praised Romance’s progressive “pansexual” spirit. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s recent inclusion of the novel on a select list of African American classics signifies Romance in Marseille’s entry into the African American literary canon.

While the manuscript was being prepared for publication, the editorial board of English Language Notes (ELN) invited Holcomb and Maxwell to guest-edit a special issue devoted to the novel’s historic release. “Transhistoricizing Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille” reads the text vis-à-vis such emergent critical areas as Afropessimism, maritime modernism, and the politics of pleasure.

Interested in the connections between the Harlem Renaissance and the Lost Generation writers, Holcomb has edited two books on the intertextual exchanges between Hemingway and such Black authors as McKay, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin. Holcomb collaborated with Charles Scruggs, University of Arizona, on Hemingway and the Black Renaissance (Ohio State University Press, 2012), and in 2018 he edited Teaching Hemingway and Race, part of the Kent State University Press “Teaching Hemingway” series.

Awards, Honors, and Fellowships

In May 2023, Holcomb organized and was elected president of the newly formed Claude McKay Society (CMKS).

The Ohio University College of Arts and Sciences conferred on Holcomb the 2020-2021 award for Outstanding Humanities Faculty Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity.

For his 2017 Faculty Fellowship Leave, Holcomb focused on McKay’s correspondence and related materials. He conducted his sabbatical research in the archives of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

In 2016, Holcomb was named National Endowment for the Humanities Visiting Scholar for Ernest J. Gaines and the Southern Experience, an NEH Summer Scholar Institute conducted in the Ernest J. Gaines Center, University of Louisiana, Lafayette.

In 2015, he was invited to be a FIRST (Faculty-In-Residence-Summer-Term) Scholar in the Department of English, University of Colorado, Boulder, where he taught a graduate course on “Queer Harlem Renaissance.”

Hemingway and the Black Renaissance was a Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries Outstanding Academic Title as well as a Significant University Press Title for Undergraduates.

Claude McKay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance received an honorable mention for the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Book Award in 2007.

Holcomb served three Fulbright lectureships. He was twice posted as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer in American Studies in Romania: at the University of Bucharest for the academic year of 1998-1999; and at A.I. Cuza University, Iași, for 2004-2005. He was Senior Fulbright Specialist, Department of American Studies, Dresden Technical University, Germany, in 2006.


Co-editor, with Brooks E. Hefner. “Claude McKay: The Letters in Exile.” Forthcoming with Yale University Press, 2025.

Co-editor, with William J. Maxwell. Romance in Marseille, by Claude McKay. Penguin Random House, 2020.

Editor. Teaching Hemingway and Race. Kent State University Press, 2018.

Co-editor, with Charles Scruggs. Hemingway and the Black Renaissance. Ohio State University Press, 2012.

Claude McKay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance. University Press of Florida, 2007.

Guest-Edited Journal Special Issues

Co-editor, with William J. Maxwell. “Transhistoricizing Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille.” Special issue of English Language Notes (ELN) 59.1 (April 2021). Duke University Press.

Co-editor, with Cheryl Higashida and Aaron Lecklider. “Sexing the Left.” Special issue of ELN 53.1 (Spring/Summer 2015). University of Colorado Press.

Recent Articles in Scholarly Journals and Chapters in Critical Anthologies

Langston Hughes’s 1930s Short Fiction” and “Langston Hughes as Queer Harlem Renaissance Author,” 2 chapters in Langston Hughes in Context. Ed. Vera M. Kutzinski and Anthony Reed. Cambridge University Press, 2023.

“Great Depression Novel, Great Quarantine Read: Making McKay’s Romance in Marseille a Contemporary Classic.” New Directions in Print Culture Studies: Archives, Materiality, and Modern American Culture. Ed. Jesse Schwartz and Daniel Worden. Bloomsbury, 2022.

“Editing Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille: A Groundbreaking Harlem Renaissance Novel Emerges from the Archive.” Editing the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Joshua Murray and Ross Tangedal. Clemson University Press, 2021.

With William J. Maxwell. “Transhistoricizing Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille: Introduction to the Special Issue.” ELN 59.1 (April 2021), Duke University Press.

Courses Regularly Taught

  • AAS 1100 Introduction to African American Literature
  • AAS 2100 African American Literature I: Slave Narratives to Harlem Renaissance
  • AAS 2110 African American Literature II: Harlem Renaissance to Contemporary Black Literature
  • AAS 3100 Postmodern Blackness: Identity and Culture in Contemporary African American Literature
  • AAS 3110 Harlem Renaissance