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The son of Richard Henry and Pauline Minerva Nugent, Richard Bruce Nugent left Washington, D.C. with his recently widowed mother at the age of thirteen and moved to New York City, where he attended Dunbar High School. To support himself Nugent worked as an errand boy, bellhop, designer, and elevator operator, as well as a “secretary and a confidance man for a modiste.”

Openly gay at the age of nineteen, Nugent went by the name Richard Bruce to protect his mother from public embarrassment about his homosexuality. Although his gay identity cost him some friendships, Nugent associated with gay and bisexual contemporaries Langston Hughes, Carl Van Vechten, E. M. Forster, and Alain Locke. His dramatic “ultimate bohemian” style was the basis for Wallace Thurmanapos;s character Paul Arbian in Infants of the Spring (1932 the roman a clef that satirized figures of ...