Revolutionary writer, Richard B. Nugent

Richard B.
Mon, 1906-07-02

On this date, Richard Bruce Nugent was born in 1906. He was an African American writer.

From Washington, DC he was born to a family of high social position in the black community. His mother was an accomplished pianist, who was also trained as a schoolteacher. His father was a Pullman porter. Richard Bruce Nugent attended public grade schools and Dunbar High School. Nugent 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 the best of 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 Opportunity magazine. It was reprinted in Countee Cullen’s Caroling Dusk (1927). Alain Locke’s, The New Negro (1925) contained Sadhji, Nugent’s first published short story. This story came about on the sly. Locke asked Nugent to write a brief explanation of a drawing that he had done of a young African woman. The narrative ended up being more useful than the graphic that Nugent had done. Locke continuously encouraged Nugent in his artistic endeavors; they knew each other through their family connections. 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 a black periodical. By today’s standards, Smoke, Lilies, and Jade is mild in its treatment of same-sex encounters. To deliver his message in the short story, Richard Bruce used elliptics throughout the narrative. In electing to use elliptics, as a style to emulate speech and thought processes, he aimed to estimate actual speech, giving short and long pauses to reflect a more nature speech pattern. Nugent was also involved with a second magazine undertaking. In 1928, he served as associated editor of Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life. The only issue of Harlem was published in November 1928.

Richard Bruce wrote the theater reviews. Nugent did not follow the usual expectations and norms of a society that he felt created restrictive boundaries. In his own words, he stated that he was always called flamboyant. In 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. 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. (Richard Bruce Nugent: Photo by Thomas H. Writh)

The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.
ISBN 0-471-23924-0

To be a Writer

Person / name: 

Nugent, Richard B.