Wallace Henry Thurman Biography

Editor, Literary Critic, Playwright, Author (1902–1934)
Wallace Henry Thurman was an African-American writer best known for his contributions to the Harlem Renaissance.


Wallace Henry Thurman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on August 16, 1902. After breaking into the journalism business in Los Angeles, California, Thurman relocated to New York City and became an active participant in the Harlem Renaissance. He edited and wrote plays, opinion pieces and several novels, including The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life (1929). Thurman died in New York City on December 22, 1934.

Early life

Wallace Henry Thurman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on August 16, 1902. His father abandoned the family shortly after Thurman's birth, briefly reuniting with his son three decades later. Thurman's mother married and divorced a number of times during his youth, sometimes sending Thurman to live with his grandmother, Emma Jackson, who ran an illegal bar out of her home.

Thurman was a sickly child. He attended school intermittently, dropping out for years at a time to recover from bouts of illness and frequent heart attacks, but his health later improved and he was able to finish high school in Salt Lake City. He attended the University of Utah and the University of Southern California, though never completed a degree. While living in Los Angeles, California, Thurman worked as a newspaper reporter and founded a magazine, Outlet, intended to be a West Coast equivalent to the NAACP publication The Crisis.


In 1925, Thurman moved to Harlem, New York. Over the next decade, he worked as an editor and a writer of novels, plays and journalistic articles. In 1926, he became editor of The Messenger, a socialist journal targeting African-American readers. He also co-founded the literary magazine Fire!!, which published the work of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Gwendolyn Bennett. The magazine took an opposing view to African-American leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois, who championed social equality and racial integration. Thurman argued that African-American artists should embrace expression on their own terms, rather than as a way of appealing to Anglo-American respectability.

Thurman's apartment in Harlem served as a central meeting place for African-American authors and artists. Thurman referred to the room as "Niggerati Manor" and had it painted black and red, with murals adorning the walls.


Literary works produced by Thurman include Harlem, a play that debuted on Broadway in 1929, and the novels The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life (1929) and Infants of the Spring (1932). Thurman has gained increasing critical acclaim since his death, particularly for his work in The Blacker the Berry.

Personal Life and Death

Thurman married Louise Thompson on August 22, 1928. The marriage lasted six months and produced one child. When they divorced, Thompson stated that Thurman was a closeted homosexual.

Thurman died in New York City on December 22, 1934, at the age of 32. Though the cause of death was officially ruled as tuberculosis, Thurman's condition may have been exacerbated by alcoholism.

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