Wallace Thurman born 16 August 1902 (d. 1934)
Wallace Henry Thurman was an African American novelist during the Harlem Renaissance. He is best known for his novel The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life, which describes discrimination based on skin colour among black people.
Thurman was born in Salt Lake City in 1902 to Beulah and Oscar Thurman. Beulah Thurman was reportedly never fond of Wallace; she would marry six times during her lifetime. Between his mother's many marriages, Wallace Thurman and his mother lived with Emma Jackson, the maternal grandmother to Wallace. His grandmother's home doubled as a saloon where alcohol was served without a license. The relationship between Wallace and his father was a distant one. While Wallace was less than a month old, Oscar Thurman abandoned and lived apart from his wife and son. Wallace was almost thirty years old when he met his father.
Thurman's early life was marked by loneliness, family instability and poor health. He began grade school at age six in Boise, Idaho, but poor health eventually led to a long absences from school and several moves, although he did finish high school. Throughout it all, Thurman was a voracious reader, writing his first novel at the age of ten. He attended the University of Utah from 1919 to 1920 as a pre-medical student. Later, in 1922, he transferred to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles but left without receiving a degree. While in Los Angeles he became a reporter for an African American owned newspaper where he wrote his first column.
In 1925 he moved to Harlem in New York City. During his time in Harlem and in less than ten years, he obtained various employments as a publisher, an editor for magazines and a major publisher, a writer of novels, plays, and articles, and at various times he served as a ghostwriter to various people. The following year he became the editor of The Messenger, a socialist journal aimed at black audiences. While at the Mesenger, Thurman became the first person to publish the adult-themed stories of Langston Hughes. Thurman left The Messenger in October 1926 to become the editor of a white owned magazine called World Tomorrow. The following month, he collaborated in the publishing of the literary magazine Fire!!
Only one issue of Fire!! was ever published. Fire!! challenged the idea that black art should serve as propaganda and those within the African American bourgeoisie who sought social equality and racial integration at the expense denying certain less-than-stellar aspects of black life in the United States. Thurman, like his fellow contributors to the magazine, attempted to show the real lived lives of African Americans, both the good and the bad. His view was that black artists should be more objective in their writings and not so self-conscious that they did not acknowledge and celebrate the arduous conditions of African American lives, as many actually existed instead of presenting a singular false facade to win white approval. This was in contrast to African American leaders and middle class who saw the goal of the New Negro movement as showing white Americans that blacks were not inferior.
During this time, Thurman's rooming house apartment at 267 West 136th Street in Harlem became the main place where the African American literary avant-garde and visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance met and socialised.
In 1928, Thurman published another magazine called Harlem: a Forum of Negro Life. The publication lasted for only two issues. Afterwards, Thurman became a reader for a major publishing company. He was the first African American in such a position in a New York publishing house.
Thurman wrote a play, Harlem, which debuted on Broadway in 1929 to mixed reviews. The same year his novel The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life was published. The novel is now recognised as a ground breaking work of fiction because of its focus on intraracial prejudice, specifically between light-skinned and dark-skinned black people - Thurman was very dark-skinned. However, at the time many African Americans did not like the public airing of their community's so-called 'dirty laundry'.
Three years later Thurman published Infants of the Spring, a satire about the themes and the individuals of the Harlem Renaissance. He co-authored a final novel, The Interne, published in 1932.
Thurman married Louise Thompson Patterson on August 22, 1928. The marriage lasted only six months. Thompson noted that Wallace was a homosexual and thus their union was incompatible.
Thurman died in 1934 at the age of 32 from tuberculosis, which many suspect was exacerbated by his long fight with alcoholism.
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