Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugent

Overview


Richard Bruce Nugent (1906–1987) was a writer, painter, illustrator, and popular bohemian personality who lived at the center of the Harlem Renaissance. Protégé of Alain Locke, roommate of Wallace Thurman, and friend of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, the precocious Nugent stood for many years as the only African-American writer willing to clearly pronounce his homosexuality in print. His contribution to the landmark publication FIRE!!, “Smoke, Lilies and Jade,” was unprecedented in its celebration of ...
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Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugent

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Overview


Richard Bruce Nugent (1906–1987) was a writer, painter, illustrator, and popular bohemian personality who lived at the center of the Harlem Renaissance. Protégé of Alain Locke, roommate of Wallace Thurman, and friend of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, the precocious Nugent stood for many years as the only African-American writer willing to clearly pronounce his homosexuality in print. His contribution to the landmark publication FIRE!!, “Smoke, Lilies and Jade,” was unprecedented in its celebration of same-sex desire. A resident of the notorious “Niggeratti Manor,” Nugent also appeared on Broadway in Porgy (the 1927 play) and Run, Little Chillun (1933)
Thomas H. Wirth, a close friend of Nugent’s during the last years of the artist’s life, has assembled a selection of Nugent’s most important writings, paintings, and drawings—works mostly unpublished or scattered in rare and obscure publications and collected here for the first time. Wirth has written an introduction providing biographical information about Nugent’s life and situating his art in relation to the visual and literary currents which influenced him. A foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr. emphasizes the importance of Nugent for African American history and culture.

2002 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Biography.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Nugent is one of the best-known unknowns of the Harlem Renaissance—widely quoted by its chroniclers and revered by people interested in black gay history. By restoring his place in history and making his work widely available for scrutiny, this book performs an invaluable service. Wirth’s introduction also provides an extraordinary tour of the gay side of the Renaissance and vivid glimpses of bohemian life in Harlem and the arts circles Nugent moved in.”—George Chauncey, author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World

“One of the key figures in both the creative world of the Harlem Renaissance and the complex underground world of gay culture, Bruce Nugent at last speaks here for himself.”—from the foreword, by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Choice
Nugent is finally given the chance to speak for himself in this volume. . . . Academic collections at all levels.—J. Shreve
Savoy
[V]ividly examines the work of the gay writer, painter, and illustrator.
Lambda Book Report
Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance marks the first time so much information about Nugent has been collected between two covers . . . . [T]he sheer volume of Nugent's work, some published for the first time here, would warrant such a collection.—Terrance Heath
The Gay and Lesbian Review/WORLDWIDE
Richard Bruce Nugent, one of the lesser-known members of the Renaissance, had the distinction of being the only openly gay member of its ranks. . . . Wirth's lengthy introduction nicely lays the groundwork for understanding Nugent's life, his literary forebears, and his influences in the Harlem Renaissance. . . . Gay Rebel also includes a generous collection of both black-and-white and glossy color reproductions of Nugent's drawings and paintings. . . . This book is a fascinating, well-researched, and loving tribute to an artist worth remembering.—Martha E. Stone
The New York Amsterdam News
[F]ascinating. . . . This anthology of [Nugent's] artistic output is of major importance.—Raoul Abdul
The Chronicle Review
[A] new collection of the writings and drawings of Richard Bruce Nugent, that most famously 'unfamous' member of the Harlem Renaissance. . . . Nugent's story has come to be recognized as the first affirmative, unblushing statement of homosexual desire in African-American literature-thus the appeallation 'gay rebel.'—Robert Reid-Pharr
Gay People's Chronicle
[A] must-have. For students of African-American literature, it is the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that comprises black history in the 20th century. For lovers of gay literature, it is a rare glimpse of early work that does not share the same morbidity that so often characterized Nugent's Caucasian counterparts.—Anthony Glassman
African American Literature Book Club
Richard Bruce Nugent is the best well-kept secret of the Harlem Renaissance. . . . The anthology begins with an extraordinary introduction. . . . Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance is an unexpected, shiny-wrapped Christmas gift-one that keeps giving all year round. . . . Gay Rebel does an extraordinary effort to restore Nugent to his rightful place by representing him to a new audience. If it does nothing else than whet our appetites for more, Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance has accomplished an extraordinary feat.—Thumper
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822329138
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 1,069,321
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Bruce Nugent, one of the last surviving Harlem Renaissance luminaries when he died in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1987, was born in Washington, DC in 1906 and lived most of his life in New York City. Thomas H. Wirth is an independent scholar, bibliophile, and publisher who for twenty-five years was a staff representative for the New Jersey State College/University affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. He has a Ph.D. in chemistry from California Institute of Technology, and has taught at South Carolina State University, Southern University, Mary Holmes College, and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His website devoted to Richard Bruce Nugent is located at http://www.brucenugent.com/

Richard Bruce Nugent, one of the last surviving Harlem Renaissance luminaries when he died in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1987, was born in Washington, DC in 1906 and lived most of his life in New York City. Thomas H. Wirth is an independent scholar, bibliophile, and publisher who for twenty-five years was a staff representative for the New Jersey State College/University affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. He has a Ph.D. in chemistry from California Institute of Technology, and has taught at South Carolina State University, Southern University, Mary Holmes College, and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His website devoted to Richard Bruce Nugent is located at http://www.brucenugent.com/

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Read an Excerpt

Gay Rebel of the Harlem renaissance

Selections from the work of Richard Bruce Nugent
By Bruce Nugent

Duke University Press


ISBN: 0-8223-2913-1


Chapter One

SMOKE, LILIES AND JADE

"Smoke, Lilies and Jade" is Nugent's most important work. Published in the first and only issue of FIRE!! in November 1926, its explicity homoerotic content was unprecedented and, together with stories by Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman, established FIRE!! as the younger generation's declaration of artistic independence from their Harlem Renaissance elders.

He wanted to do something ... to write or draw ... or something ... but it was so comfortable just to lie there on the bed ... his shoes off ... and think ... think of everything ... short disconnected thoughts ... to wonder ... to remember ... to think and smoke ... why wasn't he worried that he had no money ... he had had five cents ... but he had been hungry ... he was hungry and still ... all he wanted to do was ... lie there comfortably smoking ... think ... wishing he were writing ... or drawing ... or something ... something about the things he felt and thought ... but what did he think ... he remembered how his mother had awakened him one night ... ages ago ... six years ago ... Alex ... he had always wondered at the strangeness of it ... she had seemed so ... so ... so just the same ... Alex ... I think your father is dead ... and it hadn't seemed so strange ...yet ... one's mother didn't say that ... didn't wake one at midnight every night to say ... feel him ... put your hand on his head ... then whisper with a catch in her voice ... I'm afraid ... ssh don't wake Lam ... yet it hadn't seemed as it should have seemed ... even when he had felt his father's cool wet forehead ... it hadn't been tragic ... the light had been turned very low ... and flickered ... yet it hadn't been tragic ... or weird ... not at all as one should feel when one's father died ... even his reply of ... yes he is dead ... had been commonplace ... hadn't been dramatic ... there had been no tears ... no sobs ... not even a sorrow ... and yet he must have realized that one's father couldn't smile ... or sing anymore ... after he had died ... everyone remembered his father's voice ... it had been a lush voice ... a promise ... then that dressing together ... his mother and himself ... in the bathroom ... why was the bathroom always the warmest room in the winter ... as they had put on their clothes ... his mother had been telling him what he must do ... and cried softly ... and that had made him cry too but you mustn't cry Alex ... remember you have to be a little man now ... and that was all ... didn't other wives and sons cry more for their dead than that ... anyway people never cried for beautiful sunsets ... or music ... and those were the things that hurt ... the things to sympathize with ... then out into the snow and dark of the morning ... first to the undertaker's ... no first to Uncle Frank's ... why did Aunt Lula have to act like that ... to ask again and again ... but when did he die ... when did he die ... I just can't believe it ... poor Minerva ... then out into the snow and dark again ... how had his mother expected him to know where to find the night bell at the undertaker's ... he was the most sensible of them all though ... all he had said was ... what ... Harry Francis ... too bad ... tell mamma I'll be there first thing in the morning ... then down the deserted streets again ... to grandmother's ... it was growing light now ... it must be terrible to die in daylight ... grandpa had been sweeping the snow off the yard ... he had been glad of that because ... well he could tell him better than grandma ... grandpa ... father's dead ... and he hadn't acted strange either ... books lied ... he had just looked at Alex a moment then continued sweeping ... all he said was ... what time did he die ... she'll want to know ... then passing through the lonesome street toward home ... Mrs. Mamie Grant was closing a window and spied him ... hallow Alex ... an' how's your father this mornin' ... dead ... get out ... tch tch tch an' I was just around there with a cup a' custard yesterday ... Alex pulled contentedly on his cigarette ... he was hungry and comfortable ... and he had an ivory holder inlaid with red jade and green ... funny how the smoke seemed to climb up that ray of sunlight ... went up the slant just like imagination ... was imagination blue ... or was it because he had spent his last five cents and couldn't worry ... anyway it was nice to lie there and wonder ... and remember ... why was he so different from other people ... the only things he remembered of his father's funeral were the crowded church and the ride in the hack ... so many people there in the church ... and ladies with tears in their eyes ... and on their cheeks ... and some men too ... why did people cry ... vanity that was all ... yet they weren't exactly hypocrites ... but why ... it had made him furious ... all these people crying ... it wasn't their father ... and he wasn't crying ... couldn't cry for sorrow although he had loved his father more than ... than ... it had made him so angry that tears had come to his eyes ... and he had been ashamed of his mother ... crying into a handkerchief ... so ashamed that tears had run down his cheeks and he had frowned ... and someone ... a woman ... had said ... look at that poor little dear ... Alex is just like his father ... and the tears had run fast ... because he wasn't like his father ... he couldn't sing ... he didn't want to sing ... he didn't want to sing ... Alex blew a cloud of smoke ... blue smoke ... when they had taken his father from the vault three weeks later ... he had grown beautiful ... his nose had become perfect and clear ... his hair had turned jet black and glossy and silky ... and his skin was a transparent green ... like the sea only not so deep ... and where it was drawn over the cheek bones a pale beautiful red appeared ... like a blush ... why hadn't his father looked like that always ... but no ... to have sung would have broken the wondrous repose of his lips and maybe that was his beauty ... maybe it was wrong to think thoughts like these ... but they were nice and pleasant and comfortable ... when one was smoking a cigarette through an ivory holder ... inlaid with red jade and green ...........

he wondered why he couldn't find work ... a job ... when he had first come to New York he had ... and he had only been fourteen then ... was it because he was nineteen now that he felt so idle ... and contented ... or because he was an artist ... but was he an artist ... was one an artist until one became known ... of course he was an artist ... and strangely enough so were all his friends ... he should be ashamed that he didn't work ... but ... was it five years in New York ... or the fact that he was an artist ... when his mother said she couldn't understand him ... why did he vaguely pity her instead of being ashamed ... he should be ... his mother and all his relatives said so ... his brother was three years younger than he and yet he had already been away from home a year ... on the stage ... making thirty-five dollars a week ... had three suits and many clothes and was going to help mother ... while he ... Alex ... was content to lay and smoke and meet friends at night ... to argue and read Wilde ... Freud ... Boccacio and Schnitzler ... to attend Gurdjie. meetings and know things ... Why did they scoff at himfor knowing such people as Carl ... Mencken ... Toomer ... Hughes ... Cullen ... Wood ... Cabell ... oh the whole lot of them ... was it because it seemed incongruous that he ... who was so little known ... should call by first names people they would like to know ... were they jealous ... no mothers aren't jealous of their sons ... they are proud of them ... why then ... when these friends accepted and liked him ... no matter how he dressed ... why did mother ask ... and you went looking like that ... Langston was a fine fellow ... he knew there was something in Alex ... and so did Rene and Borgia ... and Zora and Clement and Miguel ... and ... and ... and all of them ... if he went to see mother she would ask ... how do you feel Alex with nothing in your pockets ... I don't see how you can be satisfied ... Really you're a mystery to me ... and who you take after ... I'm sure I don't know ... none of my brothers were lazy and shiftless ... I can never remember the time when they weren't sending money home and when your father was your age he was supporting a family ... where you get your nerve I don't know ... just because you've tried to write one or two little poems and stories that no one understands ... you seem to think the world owes you a living ... you should see by now how much is thought of them ... you can't sell anything ... and you won't do anything to make money ... wake up Alex ... I don't know what will become of you ........

it was hard to believe in one's self after that ... did Wilde's parents or Shelley's or Goya's talk to them like that ... but it was depressing to think in that vein ... Alex stretched and yawned ... Max had died ... Margaret had died ... so had Sonia ... Cynthia ... Juan-Jose and Harry ... all people he had loved ... loved one by one and together ... and all had died ... he never loved a person long before they died ... in truth he was tragic ... that was a lovely appellation ... The Tragic Genius ... think ... to go through life known as The Tragic Genius ... romantic ... but it was more or less true ... Alex turned over and blew another cloud of smoke ... was all life like that ... smoke ... blue smoke from an ivory holder ... he wished he were in New Bedford ... New Bedford was a nice place ... snug little houses set complacently behind protecting lawns ... half-open windows showing prim interiors from behind waving cool curtains ... inviting ... like precise courtesans winking from behind lace fans ... and trees ... many trees ... casting lacy patterns of shade on the sun-dipped sidewalks ... small stores ... naively proud of their pseudo grandeur ... banks ... called institutions for saving ... all naive ... that was it ... New Bedford was naive ... after the sophistication of New York it would fan one like a refreshing breeze ... and yet he had returned to New York ... and sophistication ... was he sophisticated ... no because he was seldom bored ... seldom bored by anything ... and weren't the sophisticated continually suffering from ennui ... on the contrary ... he was amused ... amused by the artificiality of naivete and sophistication alike ... but maybe that in itself was the essence of sophistication or ... was it cynicism ... or were the two identical ... he blew a cloud of smoke ... it was growing dark now ... and the smoke no longer had a ladder to climb ... but soon the moon would rise and then he would clothe the silver moon in blue smoke garments ... truly smoke was like imagination ......... Alex sat up ... pulled on his shoes and went out ... it was a beautiful night ... and so large ... the dusky blue hung like a curtain in an immense arched doorway ... fastened with silver tacks ... to wander in the night was wonderful ... myriads of inquisitive lights ... curiously prying into the dark ... and fading unsatisfied ... he passed a woman ... she was not beautiful ... and he was sad because she did not weep that she would never be beautiful ... was it Wilde who had said ... a cigarette is the most perfect pleasure because it leaves one unsatisfied ... the breeze gave to him a perfume stolen from some wandering lady of the evening ... it pleased him ... why was it that men wouldn't use perfumes ... they should ... each and every one of them liked perfumes ... the man who denied that was a liar ... or a coward ... but if ever he were to voice that thought ... express it ... he would be misunderstood ... a fine feeling that ... to be misunderstood ... it made him feel tragic and great ... but maybe it would be nicer to be understood ... but no ... no great artist is ... then again neither were fools ... they were strangely akin these two ... Alex thought of a sketch he would make ... a personality sketch of Fania ... straight classic features tinted proud purple ... sensuous fine lips ... gilded for truth ... eyes ... half opened and lids colored mysterious green ... hair black and straight ... drawn sternly mocking back from the false puritanical forehead ... maybe he would make Edith too ... skin a blue ... infinite like night ... and eyes ... slant and gray ... very complacent like a cat's ... Mona Lisa lips ... red and seductive as ... as pomegranate juice ... in truth it was fine to be young and hungry and an artist ... to blow blue smoke froman ivory holder ............

here was the cafeteria ... it was almost as though it had journeyed to meet him ... the night was so blue ... how does blue feel ... or red or gold or any other color ... if colors could be heard he could paint most wondrous tunes ... symphonious ... think ... the dulcet clear tone of a blue like night ... of a red like pomegranate juice ... like Edith's lips ... of the fairy tones to be heard in a sunset ... like rubies shaken in a crystal cup ... of the symphony of Fania ... and silver ... and gold ... he had heard the sound of gold ... but they weren't the sounds he wanted to catch ... no ... they must be liquid ... not so staccato but flowing variations of the same caliber ... there was no one in the cafe as yet ... he sat and waited ... that was a clever idea he had had about color music ... but after all he was a monstrous clever fellow ... Jurgen had said that ... funny how characters in books said the things one wanted to say ... he would like to know Jurgen ... how does one go about getting an introduction to a fiction character ... go up to the brown cover of the book and knock gently ... and say hello ... then timidly ... is Duke Jurgen there ... or ... no because if one entered the book in the beginning Jurgen would only be a pawnbroker ... and one didn't enter a book in the center ... but what foolishness ... Alex lit a cigarette ... but Cabell was a master to have written Jurgen ... and an artist ... and a poet ... Alex blew a cloud of smoke ... a few lines of one of Langston's poems came to describe Jurgen .....

Somewhat like Ariel Somewhat like Puck Somewhat like a gutter boy Who loves to play in muck. Somewhat like Bacchus Somewhat like Pan And a way with women Like a sailor man ........

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Gay Rebel of the Harlem renaissance by Bruce Nugent Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Early Work
Sahdji 63
Smoke, Lilies and Jade 75
Narcissus 87
Scheme 88
Bastard Song 89
Who Asks This Thing? 90
Geisha Man (excerpt) 90
The Bible Stories
Beyond Where the Star Stood Still 113
The Now Discordant Song of Bells 122
Slender Length of Beauty 130
Tree with Kerioth-Fruit 139
Harlem
On Harlem 147
The Dark Tower 156
Gentleman Jigger (excerpts)
Salt Lake Saga 163
Meeting Raymond 168
Rent Party 173
Negro Art 178
Stuartt Gets a Job 184
Orini 191
Harlem Renaissance Personalities
On Georgette Harvey 211
On Rose McClendon 214
On the Dark Tower 217
On Blanche Dunn 220
On "Gloria Swanson" 221
On Alexander Gumby 223
On Carl Van Vechten 226
Images
After the Harlem Renaissance
Transition 243
Pope Pius the Only 244
Lunatique 248
You Think to Shame Me 261
You See, I Am a Homosexual 268
Notes 273
Bibliography 281
Index 289
Credits and Copyright Acknowledgments 293
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Foreword

One of the key figures in both the creative world of the Harlem Renaissance and the complex underground world of gay culture, Bruce Nugent at last speaks here for himself.—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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