LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Icons. Each day in October, a new LGBT Icon is featured with a video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources.
In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.
Wednesday October 23: Bruce Nugent, Author
b. July 2, 1906
d. May 27, 1987
Bruce Nugent was a writer and artist during the Harlem Renaissance. He was the first out black writer.
He was born Richard Bruce Nugent to a middle class African-American family in Washington, D.C. After his father died in 1920, Nugent moved to New York to live with his mother. When he told her he was going to be an artist, she sent him back to Washington.
Nugent met author Langston Hughes at a salon in poet Georgia Douglas Johnson’s home. In 1925, Hughes found Nugent’s poem “Shadow” in a trash can and had it published. The poem shocked readers because it was about being gay.
Nugent returned to New York, where he moved in with fellow writer Wallace Thurman and pursued art and writing. One of Nugent’s drawings was published on the cover of Opportunity: Journey of Negro Life. Along with Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance luminaries, Nugent cofounded Fire!!, an African-American art magazine. In 1926, he published “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade,” the first literary work by an African-American that openly depicted homosexuality.
In 1952, Nugent married Grace Marr, who unsuccessfully tried to change his sexuality. They were married nearly 17 years until Marr’s death.
In 1964, Nugent was elected co-chair of Columbia University’s Community Planning Conference, an organization that promoted the arts in Harlem.
Nugent was open about his sexual orientation and was known for his vivacious personality and elegantly erotic style. Called the “Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance,” he is remembered for living unconventionally and for following his own path.