All That’s Black: Richard Bruce Nugent

Richard Bruce Nugent- artist, writer, actor, dancer, dilettante, and bohemian:

Photo Credit: Tom Wirth

“Silhouette. On the face of the moon. Am I. A dark shadow in the light.”

Icon of the 1920s Harlem, Bruce Nugent, was born to middle class, Washington D.C. socialites. Upon his father’s death, Nugent, his mother and brothers moved to New York City, where he “discovered Harlem”. When he told his mother he wanted to be a writer, she sent him back to Washington, D.C., to live with his paternal grandmother. There he met Georgia Douglass Johnson, who hosted Saturday salons for writers, poets, artists and intellectuals. It was there that he was introduced to Langston Hughes, whom he eventually followed back to Harlem. Despite his presence in Harlem and friendships with prominent literary figures of the time. Nugent’s most potent work is “Smoke Lilies and Jade”, with homosexuality as the central theme. Like Nugent, the protagonist of the story, Alex is proudly and openly gay, and it is believed that Nugent’s open embrace of his homosexuality (as opposed to his contemporaries: Hughes, Thurman, Hurston, and Claude McKay) is the most probable reason his publishing career was limited.

Nevertheless, Nugent’s credits included publication in the journals Crisis and Opportunity as well as in Locke’s New Negro anthology, a role on Broadway in Du Bose Heyward’s Porgy from 1927 to 1928 which included the London cast of the play, and much later as Co-Chair of the Harlem Cultural Council in the 1960s. In 2002, Duke University published Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Bruce Nugent, edited by Thomas Wirth. Nugent also posthumously co-starred with Anthony Mackie in “Brother to Brother” (2004), a film about what it meant to be a Black gay artist in the past and what it means to be one today.

By Aprille’ Morris & Emily Burke

Edited By Keshav Kant

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