Richard Bruce Nugent (also Bruce Nugent), artist, writer, actor, dancer, dilettante, and bohemian of 1920s Harlem, was born to middle class Washington, D.C. socialites Richard Henry Nugent and Pauline Minerva Bruce Nugent. His father was a Pullman porter; his mother a pianist. Nugent attended Washington, D.C.’s Dunbar High School where one of his teachers was the writer Angelina Weld Grimké. After his father’s death, Nugent’s mother moved with her two sons to New York City where the then thirteen-year-old Richard worked at various odd jobs through age eighteen. In New York City he “discovered Harlem,” which was then becoming the “Black Mecca” of African Americans during the “Jazz Age.”
When Nugent told his mother he had decided to become a writer, she sent him back to Washington, D.C. to live with his paternal grandmother. There Nugent began to frequent the Saturday salons hosted by poet Georgia Douglas Johnson for writers, artists, and intellectuals including Dr. Alain Locke who was editor of The New Negro: An Interpretation, the anthology that signaled the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance. Douglas also introduced Nugent to its poet laureate, Langston Hughes. Shortly thereafter, Nugent followed Hughes back to Harlem, where he was introduced to Hughes’ circle of friends and literary luminaries.
Despite his ubiquitous presence in Harlem and intimate friendships with leading figures of the Renaissance, Nugent remained a minor player among the giants of that cultural movement. He nonetheless established a place for himself among Renaissance stars such as writers Hughes, Wallace Thurman, and Zora Neal Hurston when he in 1926 became one of the co-editors of Fire!!!, a short-lived avant-garde journal which would represent the true voice of the younger generation of African Americans writers.
Nugent published “Smoke Lilies and Jade,” his now signature short story in which homosexuality is the central theme, in the first and only issue of Fire!!! Like Nugent, Alex, the story’s protagonist, proudly embraces his gay