Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance

Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugent

Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 78 illustrations, including 16-pages in color Published: May 2002

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

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the artist’s life, has assembled a selection of Nugent’s most important writings, paintings, and drawings—works mostly unpublished or scattered in rare and obscure publications and collected here for the first time.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.


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, Lambda Book Report

“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, Gay People's Chronicle

“[F]ascinating. . . . This anthology of [Nugent’s] artistic output is of major importance.” — Raoul Abdul, Amsterdam News

“[V]ividly examines the work of the gay writer, painter, and illustrator.” — Savoy

"Rebel offers a much-needed fleshing out of Nugent's contribution to the Harlem Renaissance. In addition to an informative introduction by its editor, Rebel collects, along with the few previously published pieces, a great deal of unpublished (and sometimes incomplete) writing. . . . Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance provides a more vivid glimpse of queer Harlem than has emerged in any other writing by its inhabitants. More importantly, this collection offers us a language of same-sex desire and community largely freed from our contemporary assumptions about such things." — Mason Stokes, Callaloo

"[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, Chronicle Review

"[T]he first major step in providing scholars with firm footing upon which to set out exploring Nugent’s literary and artistic legacy. . . . What amounts to a good representative collection of Nugent’s work is made only better thanks to Wirth’s 61-page introduction Given how little has previously been written about Nugent’s life and artistic endeavors, this introduction is immensely helpful in documenting Nugent’s biography and examining his writing and art both generally and in relation to the author’s sexuality." — Craig Gable, Rudolph Fisher Newsletter

"Nugent is finally given the chance to speak for himself in this volume. . . . Academic collections at all levels." — J. Shreve, Choice

"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, African American Literature Book Club

"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, Gay & Lesbian Review

"Thomas Wirth . . . does an admirable and important job as editor of this first-ever collection of Nugent's work. . . . The frankness and honesty about sexuality in Thomas Wirth's introduction may surprise some, but it will reassure others about the necessity of paying attention to same-sex male desire in the Harlem Renaissance. Nugent's art and writing are audacious and frequently brilliant and afford us an unprecedented opportunity to glimpse the artistic production of a black man who was "out" as a gay man throughout most of the twentieth century." — Charles I. Nero, Journal of the History of Sexuality

“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.


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Henry Louis Gates Jr.



Early Work

The Bible Stories


Gentleman Jigger (excerpts)

Harlem Renaissance Personalities


After the Harlem Renaissance




Credits and Copyright Acknowledgments
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2003 Lambda Literary Awards

Finalist, 2003 Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2913-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2886-5
Publicity material