Blacker the Berry...

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Simon and Schuster, Feb 2, 1996 - Fiction - 221 pages
3 Reviews
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In The Blacker the Berry…, a classic yet provocative novel written during the Harlem Renaissance, a young woman must reckon with colorism in the Black community as she navigates 1920s New York City.

One of the most widely read and controversial works of the Harlem Renaissance, The Blacker the Berry...was the first novel to openly explore prejudice within the Black community. This pioneering novel found a way beyond the bondage of Blackness in American life to a new meaning in truth and beauty.

Emma Lou Brown's dark complexion is a source of sorrow and humiliation—not only to herself, but to her lighter-skinned family and friends and to the white community of Boise, Idaho, her hometown. As a young woman, Emma travels to New York's Harlem, hoping to find a safe haven in the Black Mecca of the 1920s. Wallace Thurman recreates this legendary time and place in rich detail, describing Emma's visits to nightclubs and dance halls and house-rent parties, her sex life and her catastrophic love affairs, her dreams and her disillusions—and the momentous decision she makes in order to survive.

A lost classic of Black American literature, The Blacker the Berry...is a compelling portrait of the destructive depth of racial bias in this country. A new introduction by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, author of The Sweeter the Juice, highlights the timelessness of the issues of race and skin color in America.
 

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I became interested in this book after Maureen Corrigan reviewed it on NPR for 'Fresh Air' during Black History Month. She described this as a significant novel by an overlooked Harlem Renaissance writer. Wallace Thurman wrote the book in 1929 providing a very grim and fascinating portal into intraracial prejudice. The central character is a tragic figure named Emma Lou Brown who is a bright, independent, enterprising african american woman. Despite these positive attributes she is judged harshly for her dark skin even amongst the african american community where lighter is better. Thurman shows us Emma Lou at different stages of life. First as a misfit black girl in a white Idaho community. Then as a college student at USC who faces social rejection from her lighter skinned peers. Finally, we see her as a young adult trying to carve a place in the world for herself in Harlem, where acceptance is hard to find even in a predominantly black community. 'The Blacker the Berry' also stands as a vivid window of everyday life in 1920's Harlem. Thurman's descriptions of Lennox Avenue, employment agencies, speakeasies and flop houses are a terrific period archive. I felt extreme sadness reading about the futility of her nightly skin lightening rituals or having to settle romantically for the skeevy Alva who was beneath her as a human being. Despite the loneliness of her exile, Emma Lou is a heroic figure who manages to retain self possession through a punishing life. 3/2018 

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"I'm a biggest hypocrite in 2016." #KingKunta.

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About the author (1996)

Wallace Thurman is the author of Harlem, a play, and two other novels, Infants of the Spring and Interne. He died in 1934.

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