Richard Bruce Nugent: Unapologetically authentic
Although there were many queer artists during the Harlem Renaissance — as there have been queer people in every movement for all time — Richard Bruce Nugent was one of few artists who was openly gay. He was a writer, painter, and more. Although he did not publish an immense volume of work and is not a household name like some of his friends and contemporaries, he is often remembered for the way he treated homosexuality in his writing and in his life. He was open about being gay and his writing also treated it as an aspect of identity to be celebrated rather than to be hidden.
Perhaps Nugent’s most recognized work is his short story “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade,” which was published in the magazine Fire!!! he edited with a number of other prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Although its depictions of sex acts would now be considered tame, the way that he unapologetically wrote about them was a radical act at the time. As he says in his piece in Getsy’s Queer/Documents of Contemporary Art, “I have never been in what they call ‘the closet.’ It has never occurred to me that it was anything to be ashamed of, and it never occurred to me that it was anybody’s business but mine.”
Many of Nugent’s visual art pieces — drawings and paintings — were created for use in publications like Fire!!! and other magazines. Like his written work, these images depict unapologetic black bodies, often sensually and matter-of-factly.