December 22nd, 2012

andrew potter

Gay New York: Wallace Thurman (August 16, 1902 - December 22, 1934)

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 explores discrimination among black people based on skin color.

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 his wife and son. It was not until Wallace was 30 years old that he met his father.

Thurman's early life was marked by loneliness, family instability and illness. He began grade school at age six in Boise, Idaho, but his poor health eventually led to a two-year absence from school, during which he returned to Salt Lake City. From 1910 to 1914, Thurman lived in Chicago, but he would have to finish grammar school in Omaha, Nebraska. During this time, he suffered from persistent heart attacks. While living in Pasadena, California's lower altitude in the winter of 1918, Thurman came down with influenza during the worldwide Influenza Pandemic. Considering his history of illness, he surprisingly recovered and then returned to Salt Lake City, where he finished high school.

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Another bright star of the Renaissance, the novelist Wallace Thurman, also spent years worrying that his homosexuality would be used against him. He had been arrested within weeks of arriving in the city for having sex with a white hairdresser in a 135th Street subway washroom. Although he gave police a false name and address and a minister bailed him out, word of the arrest began to spread. Four years later, having established himself as an editor and leader of young black writers, he still felt dogged by rumors of the arrest and wondered anxiously whether others had heard of it. His fears were exacerbated when his wife, after a short and unsuccessful marriage, threatened to use his homosexuality as grounds for divorce. "You can imagine with what relish a certain group of Negroes in Harlem received and relayed the news that I was a homo. No evidence is needed of course beyond the initial rumor", he wrote a friend in 1929, denying that the rumor was true. --Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncey
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