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The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life by  Wallace Thurman - First edition - 1929 - from Ken Sanders Rare Books, ABAA (SKU: 57091)

The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life

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The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life

by Thurman, Wallace

  • Used
  • hardcover
  • First
Very good minus
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About This Item

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 fairly well known within the "Harlem Renaissance," but the publication of this work would announce his talents to a wider audience, and would help to cement his reputation as a writer who would take on unpopular (and sometimes uncomfortable) subjects. This copy bears two interesting indications of its Hollywood provenance: the bookplate of longtime M-G-M writer-producer Carey Wilson is on the front pastedown; and on the rear pastedown is a label from the celebrated Satyr Book Shop on Vine Street (which was located in the same building as the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant), from where the book was most likely originally purchased.


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.

Read more: Identifying first editions of The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life


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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book dealer
Ken Sanders Rare Books, ABAA US (US)
Bookseller’s Inventory #
The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life
Thurman, Wallace
Book condition
second hand - Very good minus
Quantity available
First edition
Macaulay Company
Place of Publication
New York
Date Published
Harlem Renaissance; Infants of the Spring; The Messenger; Fire!!; Getman; ABAA-NY; santa monica 2021

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Ken Sanders Rare Books, ABAA

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About the Seller

Ken Sanders Rare Books, ABAA

Seller rating:
This seller has earned a 4 of 5 Stars rating from Biblio customers. member since 2006
Salt Lake City, Utah
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About Ken Sanders Rare Books, ABAA

Ken Sanders Rare Books is a full service antiquarian bookshop in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. We carry an ever-changing inventory of art, ephemera, maps, photography, and postcards in addition to a vast selection of used and rare books along with a few new books. We actively purchase and appraise books in all fields.


Some terminology that may be used in this description includes:

"Cloth-bound" generally refers to a hardcover book with cloth covering the outside of the book covers. The cloth is stretched... [more]
The outer portion of a book which covers the actual binding. The spine usually faces outward when a book is placed on a shelf.... [more]
Highly sought after by some collectors, a book plate is an inscribed or decorative device that identifies the owner, or former... [more]
First Edition
In book collecting, the first edition is the earliest published form of a book. A book may have more than one first edition in... [more]
rolled spine or spine rolled. Damage to a book created by pressure to the spine making it fold or crease in the cover. Damage... [more]
Another of the terms referring to page or book size, octavo refers to a standard printer's sheet folded four times, producing... [more]

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