This article examines Claude McKay’s 1928 journey to Africa under colonial occupation and uncovers how these true events partly inspired his late work of expatriate fiction, Romance in Marseille. By bringing together migration studies with literary history, the article challenges and expands existing research that suggests that McKay’s writings register the impulse for a nomadic wandering away from oppressive forms of identity control set up in the wake of World War I. The article contends that Claude McKay’s renegade cast of “bad nationalist” characters registers a generative tension between the imperial national forms the author encountered in North Africa and the Black nationalist vision of Marcus Garvey’s Back-to-Africa campaign. Reading the dialectics of bad nationalisms and Black internationalisms, the article explores how the utopian promise for Black liberation by returning back to Africa, central to the New Negro project of Black advancement, frequently becomes entangled in McKay’s transnational stowaway fiction with conflicting calls for reparations, liabilities, and shipping damages.

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