PJAS 14 Autumn-7

Whit Frazier Peterson

A Magnificent Blond Beast: Exploring the Implications of Harlem Renaissance Writer Wallace Thurman as Ghostwriter of a Forgotten Celebrity Gossip Memoir
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 14 (Autumn 2020), pp. 225-241

Abstract: In an early version of his article “Harlem Literati in the Twenties,” first published in the Saturday Evening Review in 1940, Langston Hughes offers the curious suggestion that Wallace Thurman was the ghostwriter of Men, Marriage and Me (erroneously written as Men, Women and Checks in Hughes’ article), the tell-all memoir ostensibly by the original blonde bombshell Peggy Hopkins Joyce. According to Hopkins’ biographer, however, Basil Woon, an English playwright and gossip columnist was supposed to have been the ghostwriter of this book. My paper will address this discrepancy by focusing on the lack of evidence supporting the Woon theory, and through an analysis using stylometry, close reading and an examination of historical documents, I will argue that Thurman is the more likely candidate as a ghostwriter for Hopkins’ memoirs, just as Hughes suggests. I will be looking specifically at the way the text, which is presented to the reader as a diary written by Hopkins from her early youth to the present day, satirizes the shallowness and excesses of the “roaring twenties.” I will argue that the text is clearly ironic and satirical in style and approach and not only satirizes celebrity, but also a society that unselfconsciously celebrates celebrity, much the way Thurman satirizes the excesses of the Harlem Renaissance in his novel Infants of the Spring. In conclusion, I will show how this book, which has been largely dismissed as celebrity gossip, is transformed into something highly literary by the way Thurman, as ghostwriter and editor, takes Hopkins’ life story and turns it into a satire of the excesses of an era.

Key words: Wallace Thurman, Harlem Renaissance, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, satire, stylometry, author attribution, Friedrich Nietzsche, Langston Hughes, Basil Woon, the jazz age

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.14/2/2020.07

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