The Blacker the Berry (1929), Wallace Thurman’s debut novel, broke new ground as an exploration of issues of “colorism,” intra-racial prejudice, and internalized racism in African American life. Its protagonist, the young Emma Lou Morgan, is simply “too dark” for a world in which every kind of advancement seems to require a light complexion. Seeking acceptance and opportunity, she moves––much like the dark-skinned young Thurman had, four years before the novel’s publication––from Idaho to California to New York. Harlem, the “city of surprises,” is in many ways the novel’s true subject, its low-down, licentious streets, glittering cabarets, and variegated cast of characters offering a rich backdrop for Emma Lou’s ambivalent, picaresque progress.
By Wallace Thurman