Despite the modest size of his published oeuvre, Richard Bruce Nugent is a
significant figure of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a key member of the
group of younger African American writers and artists who created the legend-
ary publication FIRE!! in November 1926—a group that included Langston
Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas, and Wallace Thurman. Nugent
was the first African American to write from a self-declared homosexual per-
spective; his work therefore occupies an honored place in the now-burgeoning
literature of the gay black male. An openly gay black youth who moved in
circles—white and black—where same-sex erotic interest was pervasive but
rarely acknowledged publicly, Nugent illuminated, through his life and work,
conundrums of race, sex, and class that are of considerable current interest.
Although Nugent’s work draws heavily on autobiographical specifics, facts
concerning his life are not widely known. Therefore, the first part of this intro-
duction consists of an extended biographical sketch. Since Nugent was obvi-
ously influenced by both the crosscurrents of the Harlem Renaissance and the
evolving gay male literary tradition, the second part of the introduction dis-
cusses the literary and artistic context in which he lived and worked.
My perspective is not that of an academic professional but of a close friend
who knew Nugent well. Based on his manuscripts and papers, taped inter-
views, and archival research, my narrative is also informed by countless hours
of conversation with Nugent during the last five-and-a-half years of his life. I
offer this book not as a definitive analysis but as an invitation to wider appre-
ciation and further study of his life and work.
When nineteen-year-old Richard Bruce Nugent returned with Langston
Hughes to New York City from his native Washington, D.C., in August 1925,
the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. Three years earlier, after a decade
in which major commercial publishers had issued almost no books by African
Americans, Harcourt Brace had published both James Weldon Johnson’s semi-
nal anthology, The Book of American Negro Poetry, and Claude McKay’s Harlem
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