PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide - An Ongoing Project

© Paul P. Reuben

Chapter 9: Harlem Renaissance - Wallace Thurman (1902-1934)

Outside Link: | The Fire!! Press |

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | Fire!! | Fire!!: Table of Contents | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap. 9: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 3, 2011

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Source:
Wallace Thurman

" . . . a strangely brilliant black boy, who had read everything and whose critical mind could find something wrong with everything he read. . . . Thurman had read so many books because he could read eleven lines at a time. He would get from the library a great pile of volumes that would have taken me a year to read. But he would go through them in less than a week, and be able to discuss each one at great length with anybody. That was why, I suppose, he was later given a job as a reader at Macaulay's - the only Negro reader, so far as I know, to be employed by any of the larger publishing firms. . . . He wanted to be a very great writer, like Gorki or Thomas Mann, and he felt that he was merely a journalistic writer."

Langston Hughes, The Big Sea, 234-238. 

| Top |Primary Works

Founder and Editor, Outlet (a magazine, which lasted for six months), Los Angeles, 1925 (source: Wallace Thurman http://aalbc.com/authors/wallace.htm).

Managing Editor, The Messenger, Harlem, NY, 1925-26.

Staff, World Tomorrow (a White-owned periodical), Autumn, 1926.

Editor, Fire!! (a quarterly magazine) November, 1926 (only one issue).

"Negro Artists and the Negro." The New Republic 52 (Aug 31, 1927): 37-39.

"Nephews of Uncle Remus." The Independent 119 (Sep 24, 1927):296-98.

"Harlem Facets." The World Tomorrow 10 (Nov 1927): 465-67.

Negro Life in New York's Harlem: A Lively Picture of a Popular and Interesting Section. It was originally published as an article in the October-November-December 1927 (vol. 2, no. 1) issue of the Haldeman-Julius Quarterly, then put into book form as one of the company's popular Little Blue Book series. A listing of copyright renewals found at http://www.ibiblio.org/ccer/1928a6.htm shows the initial copyright on the Thurman book as April 3, 1928 and the renewal by Haldeman-Julius on May 9, 1955. It is shown as a proprietary work for hire. (contributed by Virginia Berger, May 17, 2003)

Editor, Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life (a periodical), 1928 (only one issue).

"Negro Poets and Their Poetry." The Bookman 67 (Jul 1928): 555-61.

Harlem: A Melodrama of Negro Life in Harlem. (a play, with William Jourdan Rapp) opens at the Apollo Theater, February 20, 1929, later on Broadway, October 21, 1929, for a 93-performance run.

The Blacker the Berry; a Novel of Negro Life. New York: Macaulay Co., 1929. PS3539 H957 B5

"The blacker the berry / The sweeter the juice ..." - Black Folk Saying

- - - and William Jourdan Rapp. "Detouring Harlem to Times Square." The New York Times (Sunday, Apr 7, 1929): Section 10, Page 4, Col. 5.

Infants of the Spring, New York: Macaulay Co., 1932. (novel)

"The canker galls the infants of the spring." - Hamlet, I, iii, 39.

Interne, with Abraham l. Furman. New York: Macaulay Co., 1932. (novel)

The Collected Writings of Wallace Thurman: A Harlem Renaissance Reader. Singh, Amritjit. ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2003.

| Top |Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Carter, Linda M. "Wallace Thurman (1902-1934)." in Nelson, Emmanuel S. ed. African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT Greenwood, 2000.

Diawara, Manthia. Black American Cinema. NY: Routledge, 1993. PN1995.9 .N4 B45

Ganter, Granville. "Decadence, Sexuality, and the Bohemian Vision of Wallace Thurman." in Tarver, Australia and Barnes, Paula C. eds. New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse. Madison, NJ Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2005.

Giles, Freda S. "Glitter, Glitz, and Race: The Production of Harlem." in Gewirtz, Arthur and Kolb, James J. eds. Experimenters, Rebels, and Disparate Voices: The Theatre of the 1920s Celebrates American Diversity. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Glick, Elisa. "Teaching Wallace Thurman's Infants of the Spring." in Soto, Michael. ed. Teaching the Harlem Renaissance: Course Design and Classroom Strategies. NY: Peter Lang, 2008.

Miller, Monica L. "The Black Dandy as Bad Modernist." in Mao, Douglas and Walkowitz, Rebecca L. eds. Bad Modernisms. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2006.

Singh, Amritjit, and Daniel M. Scott, III. eds. The Collected Writings of Wallace Thurman: A Harlem Renaissance Reader. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2003.

Thaggert, Miriam. Images of Black Modernism: Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harlem Renaissance. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2010.

Watts, Eric K. "Queer Harlem: Exploring the Rhetorical Limits of a Black Gay 'Utopia.'" in Morris, Charles E., III. ed. Queering Public Address: Sexualities in American Historical Discourse. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007.

Witalec, Janet, and Trudier Harris-Lopez. Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit: Gale, 2002.

 

| Top | Fire!!

Devoted to Younger Negro Artists

At a time when Black writers were dependent on White editors and publishers, Wallace Thurman had the courage and foresight to plan and publish a quarterly magazine to provide opportunities for new talents.

The first number of Fire!! was published in November, 1926; unfortunately, due to a lack of financial support, no other issue of this quarterly was published. Still, this single issue of Fire!! is considered an event of historical importance - its list of contributors is a gallery of some of the bright stars of the Harlem Renaissance. Given below are the Foreword and the Table of Contents.


Foreword

FIRE . . . flaming, burning, searing, and penetrating far beneath the superficial items of the flesh to boil the sluggish blood.

FIRE . . . a cry of conquest in the night, warning those who sleep and revitalizing those who linger in the quiet places dozing.

FIRE . . . melting steel and iron bars, poking livid tongues between stone apertures and burning wooden opposition with a cackling chuckle of contempt.

FIRE . . . weaving vivid, hot designs upon an ebon bordered loom and satisfying pagan thirst for beauty unadorned . . . the flesh is sweet and real . . . the soul an inward flush of fire. . . . Beauty? . . . flesh on fire - on fire in the furnace of life blazing. . . .

"Fy-ah,

Fy-ah, Lawd,

Fy-ah gonna burn ma soul!"

| Top | FIRE!!

A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists
Premier Issue Edited by

WALLACE THURMAN

In Association With

Langston Hughes Zora Neale Hurston

Gwendolyn Bennett Aaron Douglas

Richard Bruce John Davis


Table of Contents

COVER DESIGNS .............................Aaron Douglas
FOREWORD ................................................. 1
DRAWING ..................................
Richard Bruce 4
CORDELIA THE CRUDE, A Harlem Sketch ..Wallace Thurman 5
COLOR STRUCK, A Play in Four Scenes .....Zora Neale Hurston 7
FLAME FROM THE DARK TOWER....... A Section of Poetry 15

Countee Cullen Helene Johnson

Edward Silvera Waring Cuney

Langston Hughes Ama Bontemps

Lewis Alexander

DRAWING ..................................................................Richard Bruce 24
WEDDING DAY, A Story ....................................Gwendolyn Bennett 25
THREE DRAWINGS ......................................
Aaron Douglas 29
SMOKE, LILIES AND JADE,
A Novel, Part I ............Richard Bruce 33
SWEAT, A Story ................................................Zora Neale Hurston 40
INTELLIGENTSIA,
An Essay ...............................Arthur Huff Fauset 45
FIRE BURNS, Editorial Comment ...............................Wallace Thurman 47
INCIDENTAL ART DECORATIONS .......................Aaron Douglas


Volume One Number One

EDITORIAL OFFICES
314 West 138th Street, New York City

Price $1.oo per copy Issued Quarterly

"Fire, like Mr. Hughes' poetry, was experimental. It was not interested in sociological problems or propaganda. It was purely artistic in intent and conception. Its contributorswent to the proletariat rather than to the bourgeois for characters and material. They were interested in people who still retained some individual race qualities and who were not totally white American in every respect save color of skin."

- Wallace Thurman (in "Negro Artists and the Negro.", 37)
| Top |Wallace Thurman (1902-1934): A Brief Biography
A Student Project by John Callihan 

Wallace Henry Thurman was born in Salt Lake City on 16 August 1902 to Beulah and Oscar Thurman.  His father moved to California not long after the birth, leaving Thurman in the care of his mother.  Though raised by Beulah, Thurman developed his “strongest familial attachment to ‘Ma Jack’ (Emma Jackson), his maternal grandmother." (Klotman 261)  He was a nervous and oft-sick child who "loved to read and thought of himself as a writer when, at age ten, he wrote his first novel." (261)  Examples of favorite reads for Thurman include the works of Shakespeare, Friedrich Nietzche, Gustave Flaubert, Henrik Ibsen, Fyodor Dostoyevski, and Sigmund Freud – among others.  In 1919, he enrolled at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.  After a couple of years there, he transferred to the University of Southern California.  “Although initially interested in medicine, at USC he rediscovered an earlier enthusiasm for writing and literature.” (Henderson 291)  Thurman continued his education until leaving USC in 1923, not having yet received a degree.  For the next year and a half, he wrote a column entitled “Inklings” for a black Los Angeles newspaper, worked in a post office with Arna Bontemps, edited the short-lived magazine The Outlet, and attempted to organized a West Coast literary group much like those developing in the East (Klotman 261).

Unable to organize a literary group, Thurman moved to Harlem and arrived there on Labor Day in 1925, during the peak of the Harlem Renaissance (Henderson 289).  From here, he began working odd jobs to survive and worked for Theophilus Lewis at Looking Glass as an editorial writer, reporter, assistant make-up man, and errand boy – for nothing a week (Klotman 261).  Moving on, he began work at the Messenger as managing editor and solicited manuscripts from many active writers, thereby improving the quality of the Messenger.  It was here that he was the person responsible for the publication of Langston Hughes’s first short stories.

During this time, Hughes and Thurman roomed at the same house on 137th Street, the place where the magazine Fire!! was created.  It was named as such because, as Hughes said “the idea [was] that it would burn up a lot of the old, dead conventional negro-white ideas of the past, épater le bourgeoisie into a realization of the existence of the younger Negro writers and artisits.” (Henderson 293)  Because of his needs for the magazine, Thurman dealt with the printer and his salary was ultimately attached to pay the costs of publication.  Having been unsuccessful in its one issue, Thurman was responsible for the $1000 debt left, which took him almost four years to pay off.  This one failure, though, wasn’t going to stop Thurman from his dream of creating his own successful magazine, and he started Harlem: a Forum of Negro Life as editor.  Yet again, though, only one issue was released in November of 1928.

On 22 August 1928, Thurman married a former schoolteacher Louise Thompson.  The news of his marriage “shocked” his friends “who knew him as partygoer, partygiver, and self-styled hedonist.” (Klotman 263)  This marriage, though, “dissolved so quickly, it was rumored by some that Thurman ‘was not the marrying [kind].’” (Henderson 302)  This rumor was easily passed on because though there were a few women in Thurman’s life, there is little doubt that he had homosexual tendencies contributing to feelings of personal failure and inadequacy (302).

During the time of his failing marriage, Thurman collaborated with William Jourdan Rapp on a play titled Harlem about “Negroes from the rural South trying to survive in Harlem.” (Klotman 266)  It was based on his short story “Cordelia the Crude” which appeared in the one issue of Fire!!  The play, opened on 20 February in 1929, most of his friends in attendance, though his wife was absent because they were quickly becoming estranged at this point.  His play became moderately successful, which took Thurman out to Hollywood on a possible lead for a filmed adaptation of the play (which never panned out).  While in California, he worked with Virginia Venable on a novelized version of the play.  This same year, 1929, Thurman “became involved in a struggle with his estranged wife over a divorce settlement while he was miles away.” (Klotman 268) 

In January of ’29, his novel The Blacker the Berry was published to encouraging reviews, though Thurman was never satisfied with the novel.  Henderson notes: “it is apparent that Thurman is trying to resolve some of his own problems concerning art and race and race consciousness in The Blacker the Berry.” (299)  Thurman, though, eventually returned to New York, in debt, because he had never been good with money.  He wrote to Elizabeth Marbury, a white patron, for financial support and was given the money.  He wrote Infants of the Spring, which was a “satire directed against the poseurs, those who acted the role of artist but produced little in the way of art.” (Klotman 270)  Many of the major and minor figures of the renaissance are satirized in the novel, including: Alain Locke, Hughes, Hurston, Cullen, Aaron Douglas, and A’Lelia Walker, among others (270).  This novel caused Thurman’s vilification by many critics because of its portrayal of the demise of the Harlem Renaissance.  After this novel, Thurman decided against writing with problems or aspects of the black experience (272).

Thurman then wrote The Interne with Abraham L. Furman, which dealt with the problems of the doctors at City Hospital on Welfare Island.  The novel was panned by critics and deemed “squalid,” “tawdry,” “sensational,” and “little more than an ‘ineffective narrative.’” (272)  From this failure, Thurman was brought back to the West Coast by Bryan Foy, Jr. in 1934 to write film scripts for his independent production company (272).

Staying until May, Thurman returned to New York City.  On his arrival, Thurman “had one last reunion and celebration with his Harlem cohorts and collapsed in the middle of it.  He was taken to City Hospital on Welfare Island, which he and Furman had ‘memorialized’ in The Interne.” (Klotman 273)  Thurman remained a patient at City Hospital in the incurable ward for six months and during this time he made no effort to fight his condition (Henderson 311).  On 21 December 1934, Wallace Thurman died at the age of thirty-two. 

In terms of his literary contributions to the Harlem Renaissance, he has been regarded as one of the minor figures, but he was tremendously influential upon the younger and perhaps more successful writers of the period (312).  As an interesting look at his commentary towards many of his contemporaries, I have included a section of a letter he wrote to Langston Hughes:

Found Banjo turgid and tiresome.  Passing possessed of the same faults as Quicksand.  Rope and Faggot good for library reference.  Nella Larsen can write, but oh my god she knows so little how to invest her characters with any life like possibilities.  They always outrage the reader, not naturally as people have a way of doing in real life, but artificially like ill-managed puppets.  Claude I believe has shot his bolt.  Jessie Fauset should be taken to Philadelphia and cremated.  You should write a book.  Countee should be castrated and taken to Persia as the Shah's eunuch.  Jean Toomer should be beshrined as a genius and immortal and he should also publish his new book about which gossip is raving.  Bud Fisher should stick to short stories.  Zora should learn craftsmanship and surprise the world and outstrip her contemporaries as well.  Bruce should be spanked, put in a monastery and made to concentrate on writing.  Gwennie should stick to what she is doing.  Aaron needs a change of scenery and a psychic shock.  Eric ought to finish The Big Ditch or destroy it.  I should commit suicide. (Thurman 345)

Works Cited:

Henderson, Mae Gwendolyn. "Portrait of Wallace Thurman." The Harlem Renaissance 1920-1940: Remembering the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Cary D. Wintz. Vol. 5. New York: Garland, 1996. 289-312.

Klotman, Phyllis R. "Wallace Henry Thurman." Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Ed. Trudier Harris. Vol. 51. Detroit: Gale Research, 1987. 260-273.

Thurman, Wallace.  "Letter to Langston Hughes."  nd [1929]. The Harlem Renaissance 1920-1940: The Critics and the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Cary D. Wintz. Vol. 4. New York: Garland, 1996. 345.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Wallace Thurman " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap9/thurman.html (provide page date or date of your login).
 
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