Blacker the Berry

by Thurman, Wallace

The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life is the first published novel and best-known work by Harlem Renaissance author Wallace Thurman. The book depicts life in Harlem in the 1920s and addresses the subjects of discrimination by lighter-skinned African-Americans against darker African-Americans as well as religious conversion.

First Edition Identification and Notes

The Blacker the Berry was first published by The Macaulay Company, New York in 1929.

Reviews

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On Oct 27, 2010, feeney said:
Perhaps you are not yet familiar with the Harlem Renaissance of black writers and artists (1919 - 1935). If so, I suggest that you take a quick familiarizing glimpse by film or DVD into the super-heated 1920s milieu of that famous Manhattan black neighborhood. Then tackle the text of somewhat autobiographical novel THE BLACKER THE BERRY (1929) by Wallace Thurman. For the author of THE BLACKER THE BERRY (he died in his early 30s), along with other key Harlem writers, makes a cameo appearance in the recommended 2004 biopic feature film BROTHER TO BROTHER. ***** The novel's epigraph is "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice - Negro Folk Saying." The implication of that saying is that even an American negro whose skin is very, very black has offsetting stellar qualities. ***** But the heroine of THE BLACKER THE BERRY, young Emma Lou Morgan, never once finds that to be true. All around her, in Boise, Idaho, the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles, even in negro paradise Harlem, negroes divide themselves off by color: the whiter the better. And Emma Lou is not light-colored. Page after page, other Negroes make fun of her blackness. Thus she is kept out of a Negro sorority solely because she is black, ordinary and not rich. In a Harlem vaudeville theater she thinks every anti-black joke from the stage is aimed personally at her. ******Finally, after she has taken advice both from a rare kind-hearted negro advisor and from one famous white writer fascinated with all things Harlem, Emma Lou goes back to college, passes the New York public school teacher's exam and begins teaching in Harlem. ***** But by then she is so obsessed with her blackness that she bleaches her skin and takes garlic pills to such an extent that her looks become, for the first time, objectively off-putting. Emma Lou plans to apply to teach among all white teachers in a Brooklyn public school. ****** Meanwhile, Negro men prove very disappointing to her. If they are black, they are dumb. If they are fair-skinned, all they want to do is have sex and mooch money. Only in the last few pages of the novel does Emma Lou decide to break the spell of her longest-lasting no-account half mulatto, half filipino male lover, who is also bisexual. We last see Emma Lou Morgan packing her bags, moving out (of her own home) determined at last to be selfish, economically independent and free of men. ***** THE BLACKER THE BERRY was a flop when published in 1929. Today scholars acclaim it as the first novel seriously to showcase intra-Negro apartheid. 1920s American African Americans, it is argued, simply aped and internalized the anti-black prejudices of dominant white society. Many negroes acted on the motto, "Whiter and whiter every generation." It was their white slave-owning ancestors who gave to American mulattoes, "high yallers" and other African-Americans their social standing among multi-shaded people of color in Harlem as well as anywhere else. ***** A good, short novel. It probes racial and skin-color issues with lingering saliency even in 2010. -OOO-

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by Thurman, Wallace

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1929
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New York: Macaulay Company, 1929. First edition, inscribed presentation copy. Hardcover. Very good. SIGNED. 262pp. Octavo [19.5 cm] Brown cloth with title stamped in black on the front board and backstrip. Professionally recased and rebacked, with the majority of the original spine overlaid. Covers professionally cleaned and polished. Corners of covers skillfully restored. Hinges discreetly reinforced. In a… Read more
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New York: Macaulay Company, 1929. First edition. Hardcover. Very good minus. 262pp. Octavo [19.5 cm] Brown cloth with title stamped in black on the front board and backstrip. The spine is rolled. Thurman's first published novel offers a frank portrayal of prejudice within the black community, and was divisive among the public and critics alike. Thurman was already… Read more
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