WALLACE THURMAN Biography - Writers


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Name: Wallace Henry Thurman                                                         
Born: 16 August 1902 Salt Lake City, Utah, United States                             
Died: 22 December 1934 New York City, United States                                 
Wallace Henry Thurman (1902-1934) was an 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 color among black           
Thurman was born in Salt Lake City to Beulah and Oscar Thurman. Between his         
mother's many marriages, Wallace and his mother lived with Emma Jackson, his         
maternal grandmother. His grandmother's home doubled as a saloon where alcohol       
was served without a license. When Thurman was less than a month old, his father     
abandoned and lived apart from his wife and son. The two did not meet until the     
younger Thurman was 30 years old.                                                   
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 two-year absence from school during which he returned to         
Salt Lake City. Thurman lived in Chicago from 1910 to 1914 but finished grammar     
school in Omaha, Nebraska. During this time, he suffered from persistent             
heart attacks, and came down with influenza in the winter of 1918 while living       
in the lower altitude of Pasadena, California. He returned to Salt Lake City and     
finished high school. Throughout it all, Thurman was a voracious reader, writing     
his first novel at the age of 10. He enjoyed the works of Plato, Aristotle,         
Shakespeare, Havelock Ellis, Flaubert, Charles Baudelaire and many others. 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 met and       
befriended Arna Bontemps and became a reporter for an African-American owned         
newspaper where he wrote his first (ultimately short-lived) column. Thurman also     
started his first magazine while in Los Angeles called Outlet which was supposed     
to be the equivalent of The Crisis.                                                 
In 1925 he moved to Harlem. In less than 10 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 Messenger,     
Thurman became the first 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             
publishing the literary magazine Fire!! Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists         
whose contibutors were Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Bruce Nugent, Aaron       
Douglas, Gwendolyn B. Bennett and others. Only one issue of Fire!! was ever         
published. Fire!! challenged the ideas of W.E.B. Du Bois who believed that black     
art should serve as propaganda, and many within the African American bourgeoisie     
who sought social equality and racial integration. Thurman attempted to show the     
real lives of African Americans, both the good and the bad. He stated 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. This was in contrast to African American leaders and middles         
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 socialized. Thurman and             
Hurston mockingly called the room Niggerati Manor, in reference to all of the       
black literati who showed up there. The walls of "Niggerati Manor" were painted     
red and black, colors to be emulated on the cover of Fire!! Thurman, Hughes,         
Nugent and others were described as unconventional by Jessie Redmon Fauset.         
Nugent painted murals on the walls, some of which contained homoerotic content.     
In 1928, Thurman published another magazine called Harlem: a Forum of Negro Life     
whose contibutors included Alain Locke, George Schuyler, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson.   
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.