Richard Bruce Nugent

Richard Bruce Nugent's prose composition in FIRE!!, "Smoke, Lilies and Jade," has the distinction of being the first published work written from an explicitly homosexual perspective by a black author. That its theme was homosexual and its sensibility was utterly incompatible with the work ethic made it, of all the pieces in FIRE!!, the primary target of hostile middle-class critics. We recognize Nugent as the quintessential Bohemian—a harbinger of the 1960's counterculture forty years before its time. Hughes presents him in The Big Sea:

Bruce Nugent took it [FIRE!!] around New York on foot and some of the Greenwich Village bookshops put it on display, and sold it for us. But then Bruce, who had no job, would collect the money and, on account of salary, eat it up before he got back to Harlem.

After FIRE!!, Nugent joined the cast of Du Bose Heyward's stage play, PORGY, which toured the United States and England for more than two years. In the thirties he, like Gwendolyn Bennett, worked with the Federal Writers' and Art Projects as well as the Federal Theatre. In the sixties, Nugent was one of the founders of the Harlem Cultural Council and worked especially hard on Dancemobile and Jazzmobile. Despite his bohemian lifestyle, Nugent survived until 1987, outliving all the other major Harlem Renaissance figures except Dorothy West. In his later years, he was an indispensable primary source for historians of the period.


Richard Bruce Nugent