Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, 2022, 23(1): 153–87
PORTZ-PRIZE-WINNING ESSAY, 2021
This study examines the work of two queer Black artists, Richard Bruce Nugent and Marlon Riggs, within the historical and sociopolitical contexts of the Harlem Renaissance and cultural backlash of the late 1980s. Through comparative textual analyses, the author explores fluctuations of Black queer cultural production during the twentieth century and considers how each artist subverts dominant racist and heteronormative ideologies in mainstream society and Black communities. Engaging tools from the fields of critical race theory, queer theory, critical legal studies, and cultural representations of race and sexuality, the author analyzes “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” and Tongues Untied structurally and historically, suggesting that both offer valuable strategies for survival in and resistance against an anti-Black and homophobic society. The works of Nugent and Riggs constitute queer interventions in the larger movement toward racial equality, making visible racial and sexual oppression and positing connections between racial justice and queer liberation. Moreover, positioning Riggs within the legacy of Nugent and the Harlem Renaissance points to the generative potential of radical and transgressive queer Black art.