“To Work Black Magic”: Richard Bruce Nugent’s Queer Transnational Insurgency
Within the Harlem Renaissance’s politically charged climate, a discourse of anti-decadence emerged to police the boundaries of racial solidarity and to ward off the public specter of flamboyant homosexuality associated with European aestheticism. However, self-styled bohemian Richard Bruce Nugent (1906-1987) stubbornly embraced literary decadence and aestheticism, illuminating the ways that blackness and homosexuality possessed the power to deconstruct American national identity in distinct yet overlapping ways. For Nugent, blackness and homosexuality each had the power to rework fraternal relations between men that nationalist ideologies defined as inherently belligerent. Nugent’s decadence comes specifically to bear on the global-historical relationship between Italy and Africa, echoed in both the Ethiopian Crisis and the sometimes tense relations between African- and Italian-American men in the lead-up to World War II. In his largely overlooked short story, “Pope Pius the Only” (1937), Nugent responds to fascist Italy’s invasion of the sovereign African kingdom of Ethiopia with “black magic,” toppling categorical hierarchies and undoing global white nationalisms from within by putting blackness, homoeroticism, and literary decadence “to work.”
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