Smoke, Lilies and Jade

Posted on October 18, 2010


Published in 1926, the first short story by an African-American openly addressing homosexuality, “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” appeared in Fire!!, a literary magazine of the Harlem Renaissance that lasted only one issue. Written by artist and writer Richcard Bruce Nugent, the story is written in a stream-of-consciousness style, each phrase separated by an ellipsis, and tells the story of 19-year-old Alex and Beauty, a man he meets and falls in love with. The prose is daring and experimental , with a singular voice, raw and elegant at the same time. Prominent friends of Nugent are mentioned, including Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Carl Van Vechten. The story was roundly denounced by the African-American establishment for being debased and perpetuating negative images of blacks.

Nugent, who died in 1987 at age 81, was openly gay (though he was married for a time, as were many of the gay members of the Harlem Renaissance) and lived for a time with Wallace Thurman.

Smoke, Lilies and Jade can be read in its entirety at, here. The 2004 film Brother to Brother which juxtaposes current New York with the Harlem Renaissance features Richard Bruce Nugent as one of the main characters, played by Roger Robinson and Daniel Boutte, and includes scenes of him writing “Smoke, Lilies and Jade”; you can watch the trailer, here.