“WHO ASKS THIS THING?” by Richard Bruce Nugent
I walk alone and lone must be
For I wear my love for all to see—
It matters not how close our hearts appear to be
Since I tell my love in song for all to know—
Love must not be blind or small or slow,
But that I wear my heart for all to see
Means I am bound while he is, sadly, free.
He walks alone who walks in love with me.
Richard Bruce Nugent was born in 1906, to a family of high social position in Washington, D.C.’s black community. His mother was an accomplished pianist who was trained as a schoolteacher and his father was a Pullman porter. Nugent attended public grade schools and the acclaimed Dunbar High School. He was a frequent attendee of Georgia Douglas Johnson’s famous artistic salon, where he met and befriended Langston Hughes, who rescued Nugent’s poem “Shadow” from the trash and eventually helped send it for publication in Opportunity magazine.
, the revolutionary literary magazine that formed a vocal break from the black literary establishment. Nugent was also a painter and illustrator, and the magazine contained two of his drawings as well as the short story “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade
“—the first published African American literary work with a gay theme.
Like Nugent, Alex, the story’s protagonist, proudly embraces his gay orientation and lifestyle declaring, “You see, I am a homosexual. I have never been in what they call ‘the closet.’ It 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.” Unlike his more closeted renaissance peers, including, Hughes, Thurman, Hurston, and Claude McKay, Nugent was an unabashedly happy, openly same sex loving man, an identity that may have cost him a more prominent publishing career.
Despite the lack of recognition, Nugent was a key player in the Harlem Renaissance.
Nugent’s credits included publication in the journals Crisis and Opportunity as well as in Locke’s New Negro anthology, a role on Broadway in Du Bose Heyward’s Porgy from 1927 to 1928 which included the London cast of the play, and much later as Co-Chair of the Harlem Cultural Council in the 1960s.
He died in 1987 from congestive heart failure. Since his death, interest in his life and works has grown. In 2002, Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Bruce Nugent was published and in 2004, “Brother to Brother”, a film about what it meant to be a black gay artist in the past and what it means to be one today was released. In addition, his first novel, Gentleman Jigger, was published in 2008, more than seventy years after he wrote it and twenty one years after his death.
(via Brother to Brother, Black Past, Bruce Nugent.com)