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Richard Bruce Nugent
(July 2, 1906 - May 27, 1987) U.S.A.

Richard Bruce Nugent

Writer and artist


Born to a family of high social position in the black community in Washington, DC. His parents, Richard Henry Nugent and Pauline Minerva Bruce, had two children. His mother was an accomplished pianist who was trained as a schoolteacher. His father was a pullman porter. Nugent early confirmed to his mother his sexual interest in men, after his younger brother reported seeing him kiss a male friend; his father, however, never directly discussed the matter with him, though Nugent felt he had some suspicions.

Richard Bruce Nugent attended public grade schools and Dunbar High School. He was a frequent member at Georgia Douglas Johnson's famous artistic salon where writers and intellectuals congregated in Washington. It was at one of those artistic gatherings that he met Langston Hughes. They immediately became best friends. Throughout the Renaissance, Hughes and other writers offered encouragement and support to Nugent's literary and artistic efforts.

Shadows, Nugent's first published poem, was rescued from the trash by Langston Hughes and was eventually sent to the Opportunity magazine. During the summer of 1926, Nugent was a part of a group of black artists who envisioned a literary periodical to break with the black literary establishment. This quarterly was known as Fire!!. His creative involvement included two brush and ink drawings and a short story, Smoke, Lilies, and Jade. This short story was the first literary work on a purely homosexual theme that had been published by an African-American.

Richard Bruce NugentIn spite of his modest literary and artistic output and the equally small amount written about his life, Richard Bruce Nugent was a principal player in the New Negro movement. His unique and unconventional personal style and sexual conventions upset the established mores of the time. Nugent's lifestyle was that of the ultimate bohemian.

Because of the notoriety surrounding him, and to avoid the disapproval of and embarrassment to his family, he assumed the pseudonym of Richard Bruce. It is this alias that is often attached to his writings and drawings. He has been described as a "bizarre and eccentric vagabond poet," and "a non-conformist who refused to accept so-called middle class standards." Other attributes used to describe him were "cutting, good-looking, great sense of humor, and intelligent."

In 1952, Nugent married Grace Elizabeth Marr. He admits without any hesitation that the love he had for her was not a physical love or lust. They were married for seventeen years, bur Nugent continued to have sexual relationships with men during that time. Grace died of ovarian cancer in 1969 and Nugent of congestive heart failure seventeen years later in 1987. At the time of his death, he was living in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Just before his death in 1987, Nugent vividly recalled how he had negotiated the politics of sexual identity in Harlem of the late 1920s: "I've been asked how I was able to write so openly about homosexuality in 1926.... People did what they wanted to do with whom they wanted to do it. You didn't get on the rooftops and shout, 'I fucked my wife last night.' So why would you get on the roof and say, 'I loved prick.' You didn't. You just did what you wanted to do."


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