Shortly after the talented writer Wallace Thurman moved to Harlem
in the early 1920s, he was given the rare opportunity to become the
circulation manager of a white-run magazine, The World Tomorrow.
His uncanny ability to read 11 lines of text at a time also landed
him a job at Macaulay Co., the publisher that would later bring out
two books of his own.
Thurman's editorial talents were evident to his friends and fellow
writers. Poet Langston Hughes described him as "a strangely brilliant
black boy, who had read everything and whose critical mind could find
something wrong with everything he read."
Regarded as the leader of the literary and artistic bohemians of
the day, Thurman lived in the rent-free domicile at 267 West 136th
Street—a popular gathering place for creative minds such as
Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Bruce Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett,
and Aaron Douglas. These and other artists gathered to discuss publishing
a magazine that would tackle topics ignored by the Talented Tenth:
art for art's sake, jazz, blues, and homosexuality.
Under Thurman's guidance, the group achieved its goal in November
1926, producing a quarterly titled Fire!! to signal its incendiary
message. A financial flop, the first issue of Fire!! was
also its last. Two years later, Thurman founded Harlem magazine.
It was twice as successful as Fire!!—two issues came
out before it folded.
In 1929, an adaptation of Thurman's short story "Cordelia the
Crude: A Harlem Sketch" (first published in Fire!!)
opened on Broadway as the play Harlem. It had a successful
run of 93 performances before going on tour.
Thurman had played a key role in the Harlem literary scene and wrote
about the vibrancy of Harlem life in his 1928 book, Negro Life
in New York's Harlem. But he soon grew disillusioned with his
environment. A dark-skinned black man, he felt ostracized both by
segregationist white society and by black Talented Tenth circles—which,
he claimed, favored light-skinned African Americans. In his 1929 novel,
The Blacker the Berry, Thurman dissected the color hierarchy
of the racism he had experienced. He continued to criticize Harlem
in his 1932 novel, Infants of the Spring, which scolded black
socialites who wrote for purely political purposes or rejected art
that failed to mirror Talented Tenth ideals.