Teaching at UCSD. By the time Quincy Troupe was 14, he had read Ellison, Himes, Faulkner, and Hemingway.
It’s a movie you will never see. A smart black youngster excels at baseball and basketball, but in his 20s he becomes a poet. Quincy Troupe’s career is full of such surprises. Though he is of the build — 220 pounds, 6 foot 2 — that makes him scary to many whites, he is able to persuade members of the white establishment to back his programs. Though he never viewed himself as a teacher and was, like me, drafted into the profession, he is one of the best teachers ever to set foot into an American classroom. Once I witnessed an amazing performance during which Troupe managed to convert his grief at the passing of three famous role models into a lesson plan about writing the personal narrative. Later, I asked a white student whether he enjoyed the class. He said thoroughly, and I could tell by his expression that he meant it.
Quincy Troupe reading his poetry. Troupe became part of a circle of writers who would come to be known as the Watts Poets and Writers.
Troupe’s bohemian appearance — dreadlocks, two missing front teeth — hasn’t denied him access to the living rooms of the mighty. When he gave a party on the occasion of the publication of one of his magazines, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis showed up. Only someone with Troupe’s energy and dedication could draw thousands of people to a series of New York poetry readings sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, named for the 19th-century abolitionist.
Troupe wants to do the same thing for San Diego. His greatest ambition is to launch a festival, a sort of Olympics of the arts, that would join Mexico with San Diego. One could say that Troupe has been rehearsing for this project all of his life.
Troupe was working on a novel about a young black American living in exile in Paris. Looking back upon the novel, he now says that it was terrible.
Born in 1943 in St. Louis, Quincy Troupe was introduced to sports, multiculturalism, and literature at a very early age. His father, Quincy Sr., was the second greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues (Josh Gibson was the first) and played with legends Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. At 39 Troupe Sr. made the major leagues as a catcher for the Cleveland Indians. In Monterrey, in the Mexican leagues, Roy Campanella was his backup.
Davis poured out his soul to Troupe, discussing his music in very technical terms, confessing to his bouts with drugs and his cruel treatment of women.
When a child, Quincy accompanied his father, who spoke Spanish and French fluently, as he traveled to Mexico, Venezuela, and Cuba. As a scout for the St Louis Cardinals, Quincy’s father recommended Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Roberto Clemente, and Juan Marichal, all of whom were rejected by the Cardinals.
With his wife Margaret Porter. Quincy had gone out for a drink the night her water broke, and when he returned home at 1:00 a.m., he had to rush her to the hospital.
I wondered whether Troupe Sr.’s organizing abilities may have influenced the young Troupe who, as a basketball player, made all-state and all-Army. My guess was influenced by a conversation I had with sociologist Harry Edwards, who was praising Miles, the autobiography that Troupe had brilliantly coaxed out of Miles Davis. Edwards said that the way Miles organized various musical groups was similar to the organizing techniques used in team sports. Troupe Jr., a basketball team captain, used his experience to organize some of the most successful New York cultural events of the 70s and ’80s.
Drina Krimm, Margaret Porter at the Porter Randall Gallery
By the time Quincy Troupe was 14, he had read Ellison, Himes, Faulkner, and Hemingway. His mother was an avid reader, a habit that rubbed off on the youngster. He regularly received the Book Worm Prize awarded to the St. Louis student who read the most books. But it was Troupe the athlete who won a baseball and basketball scholarship to Grambling College in Louisiana.
After college, Troupe entered the Army. As part of the Army basketball team, he traveled throughout Europe. While stationed between Metz and Paris, from 1962 to ’64, Troupe befriended Carol Anne Marie Rosiere. At the time, he was working on a novel about a young black American living in exile in Paris. Looking back upon the novel, Troupe now says that it was terrible.
Ms. Rosiere’s family knew Jean Paul Sarte, the French novelist, playwright, and existentialist philosopher, and introduced the young black American to him. Sartre took an instant liking to Troupe and invited him to his apartment, which Troupe remembers as being crammed with books and paintings, some of them by Picasso. Troupe recalls Sartre probing him about the problems faced by black Americans. The “owlish”-looking man encouraged Troupe to keep a diary.
Ms. Rosiere also introduced the budding writer to poetry, the works of Rimbaud and Baudelaire. He discovered Pablo Neruda and T.S. Eliot.
At about this time, Troupe suffered a knee injury that ended his basketball career, during which he regularly scored 25 to 30 points per game. (Troupe’s not becoming a professional athlete was later a bone of contention between him and his father, who believed that he could have become a star pitcher. Interesting, because some believe that Miles Davis, who trained as a boxer, could have succeeded in that sport.)
France changed Troupe as it had previous generations of black Americans. On his return to the U.S., he abandoned his wrinkleless style, his Quo Vadis haircut, and assumed the demeanor of an outsider. He stopped wearing ties. St. Louis, in comparison to Paris, was boring and provincial. In 1964 he moved to Los Angeles, where he continued writing poetry. He says it was the kind of poetry you read in The New Yorker, safe and well crafted.
In Los Angeles, Troupe met Bunchy Carter, the famous Southern California representative of the Black Panther Party who was later killed during a shoot-out with members of Ron Karenga’s U.S., an organization associated with cultural nationalism. At a poetry reading, Troupe heard Ojenke, a powerful performance poet, and decided that he wanted to write like him. Troupe became part of a circle of writers who would come to be known as the Watts Poets and Writers: K. Curtis Lyle, Elaine Brown (who would later become chairperson of the Black Panther Party when Huey Newton was an exile in Cuba), poet Jayne Cortez, novelist Louise Merriweather, and Stanley Crouch were also members of the group.
Troupe remembers Crouch — who would, in 1981, endorse Ronald Reagan in glaring Village Voice headlines — as having a different attitude in those days. But, says Troupe, “I gathered even then that he would do anything it took to get over, even if it meant selling somebody down the river.” A later incident would so rupture the relationship between Troupe and Crouch that Troupe would vow never to speak to Crouch again.
In 1966 Troupe and some of his colleagues — painters, musicians, and writers — began a commune that operated out of 9807 Beach Street, in Watts. They took turns working and paying bills for the operation, which they named the House of Respect. The commune lasted for a year and a half, until it was destroyed by an arsonist. While living in the commune, Troupe wrote every day. “1 got to be pretty good,” Troupe says of this period. After leaving the House of Respect, Troupe moved into East L.A.
In the aftermath of the 1965 Watts riots, which Troupe witnessed, screenwriter and novelist Budd Shulberg helped to found the famous Watts Writers Workshop. It was through Budd Shulberg that Troupe obtained his first reading tour.
During 1968 he read his poetry at Kansas State, Howard University, and Dartmouth College. Troupe supported his household by writing articles for the Los Angeles Free Press and the Los Angeles Sentinel. He wrote about community issues and about black musicians like Ornette Coleman, assignments that were to prepare him to compose one of the most successful oral autobiographies ever to appear in book form. His personal acquaintance with black music and musicians would also contribute to the forming of Miles, the autobiography. Troupe’s mother had remarried, and his new stepfather was a musician at a St. Louis club called the Riviera, and when famous musicians came through town, they would visit the Troupes. He saw Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jackie Wilson, Ike and Tina Turner, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis at clubs like the Glass Bar. The King of Rock and Roll, St. Louis resident Chuck Berry, was considered a local.
In 1968 a white teacher, whose name Troupe has forgotten, asked him whether he would like to teach. Quincy Troupe’s teaching career began at UCLA’s Upward Bound program. The curriculum included works by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka. In retrospect, Troupe believes that initially he was confrontational with the white students but later learned a more balanced approach so that “I wouldn’t just insult the white kids while letting the black students get away with things.” His next teaching assignment would take him to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
After Athens, around 1971, he moved to New York and taught at Richmond College (later to become the College of Staten Island). He then moved to the upper west side of Manhattan, living on Central Park West and then at 846 West End Avenue. Toni Morrison worked on her book Tarbaby while subletting that apartment from Troupe. His parties were usually packed with a who’s who of the black New York art world.
In 1973 Troupe met Fred Hudson, director of the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, who invited him to teach poetry at the center. It was in this role that Troupe began to organize readings that, over the years, would draw thousands of black New Yorkers to hear the major writers of African-American literature and Quincy’s workshop students. Only Ralph Ellison and Alice Walker declined to participate. Troupe calls Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellow James Allen MacPherson an “asshole” for first committing himself to a reading and then not showing. National Book Award winner Charles Johnson also backed out at the last minute.
The first of what would become known as the Black Roots Festival was an all-day event held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, near Columbia University in 1973. Later the readings were held at Columbia and at the Ethical Culture Society. The publication of three books of poetry gave a significant boost to Troupe’s career. The first was Embryo, published in 1972.
I first heard Troupe read in 1969 during an African-American conference in Buffalo, New York. At the time, I dismissed him as a “riot” poet, one who was a good performer but whose writing wouldn’t work on the page. I walked out after about three poems. Later, after reading his poems, I decided that I had been wrong. Troupe has that rare gift, the ability to transfer his sound to the page. He had more in common with Cuban poet Nikolas Guillen than with the Last Poets, ’60s precursors of rap.
Though he is capable of writing tender love poems and meditative poems about such subjects as his family, the typical Troupe poem comes at the reader like a locomotive on fire, full of blazing and powerful imagery, like that favored by the Expressionist painters who broke with the tradition that a work of art should be concerned with beauty. Troupe’s poetry abounds in images of “darkness, razors, blood, bone, roaches, quivering pus, maggot-swarming words, monstrous bugs.” He is one of America’s handful of authentic jazz poets, a category that’s much abused by critics, especially those who wish to expropriate black forms.
New York professor and playwright Steve Cannon and I published Troupe’s second and third books of poetry, Snake-Back Solos (1979) and Skulls Along the River (1984). I could tell by the response to the books — hundreds of people attended the New York book parties — that Troupe was a poet with the potential to draw a popular and mixed audience.
For Troupe, 1989 was a bittersweet year, a year that saw him catapulted into international fame and the year in which his son was arrested on a rape charge. The hippest salon in New York had moved uptown to Harlem, where Quincy and his wife Margaret took a ten-room apartment with four fireplaces in a building that once served as the Astors’ summer place and more recently as the setting for the film New Jack City. Troupe was now teaching at Columbia’s graduate writing program as well as at Staten Island.
The year began with a controversy. Troupe appeared on the cover of Poets and Writers magazine, which also carried an interview. Troupe drew the ire of a number of academics with his comment that most American poetry was boring because it was written by people whose lives were boring.
The Legacy, a book of essays about James Baldwin, edited by Troupe, also appeared in 1989. He had scored a coup by obtaining Baldwin’s deathbed interview. He had asked Baldwin to identify the person who, in recent years, had hurt him the most, and Baldwin mentioned my name. I had hurt him, he said, because I had called him a “cocksucker.” I was shocked. I hadn’t seen Baldwin since about 1979, when he visited the University of California at Berkeley, a visit that I helped to arrange.
The late poet Sarah Fabio, then terminally ill with cancer, and I had also arranged for him to attend a community meeting at a black church. Baldwin and his companions arrived three hours late, even though they were within the vicinity of the church. By then, the church was almost empty because I had told the congregation to go home. When Baldwin and his party finally arrived at the church, I was livid and some words were exchanged, but I didn’t call him a cocksucker. When he broke into tears, I calmed down and took him out for a drink.
Baldwin’s last interview with Troupe put me in a lose-lose situation. If 1 had challenged Baldwin’s account, it would appear as though I were disputing the word of a dead man. The incident marked me as a homophobe, and since then I’ve been a target for the gay contingent of African-American letters, both closeted and out.
This was the second time Baldwin had made an engagement that I had arranged, only to break his word. In 1964 I organized a party for him and he didn’t show. I was devastated.
The beginning of the end of Troupe’s relationship with Stanley Crouch also came about this time. Troupe was one of those who had been designated as a pallbearer by James Baldwin. Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, Max Roach, and Toni Morrison were also enlisted. According to Troupe, he and others watched with disgust as Crouch opportunistically muscled himself into the line reserved for the pallbearers. The deed was made more “terrible” in Troupe’s eyes by an article published in the Village Voice after the funeral, in which Crouch trashed James Baldwin.
The final split occurred when Crouch accused Troupe of plagiarizing from Jack Chambers’s 1983 book Milestones in Miles, the autobiography. At first, Troupe says. Crouch praised the book; but when Troupe heard that Crouch had been assigned to review the book for the Village Voice, Troupe says he knew Crouch would produce a negative review. As for the charge of plagiarism, Troupe says that Jack Chambers called him and praised the book. According to Troupe, this wasn’t the first time that Crouch had praised something in private, yet trashed it when hired to write about it. Troupe recalls Crouch’s glowing account of his trip to Africa, only to read Crouch’s negative account of his experience in the Village Voice.
After that, Troupe vowed never to speak to Crouch again, and in a sort of farewell-to-New York article that appeared in Newsday shortly before Quincy and Margaret moved to San Diego, Troupe warned that Crouch was a pit bull who is kept chained in a dungeon by some members of the neo-conservative Jewish right, only to be let out once in a while to attack famous blacks or those literary blacks whom the neo-conservatives feel are their main competition in the world of New York literary politics, as well as in the literary marketplace.
In his 1981 endorsement of Reagan, Crouch spoke of the need for strong leadership. Apparently the literary right has become weary of scolding blacks refusing to adhere to moral and intellectual standards that many of its own members can’t achieve in their personal lives, and has brought in a strong man who will whip us into line if we don’t abandon rap. Like the neo-conservative hero of a few seasons ago, a black principal who patrolled the halls of his school with a baseball bat, Crouch is their man with the literary brass knuckles, free to take out after black figures and institutions, but prevented from criticizing white individuals and white institutions.
Fortunately for Crouch, he has begun a public wrestling with his demons, confessing in a New York Times piece that he could sometimes be lower than a snake. Though he writes op-eds scolding violent black youth gang activities, he can’t control his own inclinations, often threatening those who disagree with him. I once wrote a letter to Victor Navsky, editor of The Nation, complaining about an uninformed hatchet job that Crouch did on my work and foundations; the letter was printed under the sarcastic title “Ishmael Reed’s Literary Army.” After the letter was published. Crouch threatened me.
Crouch can be likable, brilliant, charming even, but in my last conversation with him, I told him that he had to bring his violence under control or else it would destroy him. In the profile printed in The New York Times in which Sam Roberts’s Moynihanism characterizes the official attitude toward black Americans, Crouch spoke of the need for his personal redemption. One would hope that he would extend the same opportunity for redemption to others that he reserves for himself.
Outspoken and maverick, Quincy Troupe is one of the few black intellectuals to challenge the power of the New Black Elite, who, whether right wing or “progressive,” have forged a consensus around the notion that whatever problems blacks face do not arise from racism, unemployment, the breakdown of the agricultural community that provided the mainstay for African-Americans from the time of the free-market West African societies, the replacement of manual labor by machines, the moving of jobs from the cities to the suburbs, etc., but from the personal behavior of blacks or from something going on inside them, “self-loathing” or a “culture of poverty.” like the white critics of black personal behavior, they have access to generous cash allotments in the form of grants and other perks and are provided space in publications to break the careers of other blacks; but unlike the whites, their sponsors require that they criticize other blacks and remain silent about the social pathologies that may exist among other groups.
For example, in the name of feminism, the current commercial trend, they’ve even sought to dishonor the reputation of Richard Wright, on the grounds that he was a misogynist, but they dare not discuss Chaucer’s misogyny in the publications produced by their sponsors. They can denounce rap music but have to hold their Fire when it comes to criticizing the misogynist attitudes that exist in heavy metal or country western music. They can recommend that Norplant, a birth-control drug with dangerous side effects, be given to “promiscuous” black women but dare not suggest on The New York Times op-ed page that white women, who account for the fastest-rising rate of out-of-wedlock births, be given the same drug.
Troupe calls them Reconstructed Negroes. One of those Reconstructed Negroes, blacks whom the establishment finds acceptable because their views are closely aligned with its views, is Gerald Early, Stanley Crouch’s protégé, whom Troupe refers to as “William Gass and Daniel Halpern’s Negro.” Though members of the New Black Elite like Early may assume a public posture of cosmopolitanism, lashing out at Afrocentrism and multiculturalism on the op-ed pages, when it comes to their own personal ambitions, their supporters are not above playing the race card. Early’s assignment seems to be that of maintaining status quo literary values from a posture that transcends race; however, Halpern and Denise Levertov petitioned Quincy Troupe, who was judge for a literary contest, in which Early was a nominee, to award the prize to Early on the grounds that he was black. Troupe refused to do so and awarded the prize to a white poet, whom he felt had produced work superior to Early’s.
Troupe’s farewell article in Newsday, which included the scathing comments about Crouch, was written after Troupe experienced the highs and lows of being a star on the New York literary scene. The crack epidemic had reached Graham Court and threatened the security of his family. He found himself spending more time in a Petionville condominium located in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At first, he said, he and Margaret were always relieved upon returning to New York, but as social conditions in that city began to deteriorate, the situation changed. He began to dread returning home. (The Troupes gave up the condominium when Haitian President Aristide was ousted by a coup.)
The year 1989 also saw the publication of Miles, the autobiography. Miles Davis was Troupe’s early hero, as well as mine. As a teenager living in Buffalo, New York, I not only listened to be-bop, but talked, walked, and dressed be-bop. Be-bop was a way of life. When I met Max Roach, I told him that he and the be-boppers kept me and my friends out of reform school because we spent our teenage years in each other’s homes listening to be-bop.
For Quincy Troupe and many others of his generation and mine. Miles was the epitome of the black man who didn’t take any shit from anybody. Critics often described Miles’s style as that of a man walking on eggshells. Miles was secretive and disdainful of those who tried to pry into the details of his personal life. He, in a sense, lived inside a shell. It was Quincy Troupe who explored the interior of the shell, revealing information about Miles Davis that only his intimates were aware of, and then some. None of the critics of Troupe’s book, including Crouch, who once referred to Miles Davis as a “swine,” had ever gotten that close.
The Miles of Troupe’s book is basically a shy person who developed a reputation for “cursing out everybody.” Instead of the arrogant, difficult personality of the public Davis legend, Troupe found in Miles someone who would even cook for you. He was, according to Troupe, a straightforward, beautiful guy. While working on the book, Troupe and Miles became good friends. Miles Davis insisted that Troupe, a fellow St. Louisan, write the book. The choice was perfect. Davis poured out his soul to Troupe, discussing his music in very technical terms, confessing to his bouts with drugs and his cruel treatment of women.
From the very beginning, the musician and the writer had hit it off. Troupe had been assigned by Spin magazine to interview Miles Davis. They spent ten hours together. Soon they had established such a rapport that they could communicate without talking. For this reason, Troupe used the first person in writing the book, because he had successfully tapped into the Miles style. “I was the vessel through which his memoirs flowed,” as Troupe put it while lecturing to his class on the personal narrative. He was able to mime Miles’s language and his attitudes so that there was nothing of Troupe in the book. “If you’re going to write another person’s autobiography, your job is to be a technician,” he told the class. “You must make it comprehensible, readable, and digestible.” Many people were offended by the autobiography’s scatology, even Troupe’s brother, a minister. But Troupe defended Davis’s use of obscenity. “This is the way St. Louis jazz men talk. My father’s generation talked this way.” Troupe felt that in order to be faithful to his task, he had to show Miles unabridged. Miles, the autobiography became a bestseller — four million copies — and one of the literary events of the year, receiving rave reviews from some critics but condemnation from others. Some of the others were unhappy. Troupe claims, because Miles hadn’t chosen them to write his autobiography.
This heady year, during which Troupe appeared on the Today show, produced two books, and was the subject of a Bill Moyers television profile, also included a tragic incident from which the Troupe family has yet to recover.
In the middle ’70s, Troupe wrote an article suggesting that the white-led feminist movement would aim its most acrimonious criticisms of misogyny at black males. This was long before the lynching of Mike Tyson and Clarence Thomas by media feminists like Catharine MacKinnon and Robin Morgan. An example of this double standard occurred a few weeks ago when Bella Abzug, as chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, wrote a letter to the Times chastising young black males for their harassment of girls in the New York whirlpools.
This letter was published by The New York Times during the week when it was announced that only three men would be charged in the notorious Tailhook scandal in which 85 women were assaulted by white male aviators. The others involved, according to the report, would be tried in nonjudicial hearings away from the public and the press. The feminist movement has failed to marshal the “firestorm” of indignation about this horrendous sexual scandal and its cover-up that greeted Anita Hill’s uncorroborated charges against Clarence Thomas. Why isn’t Lt. Paula Coughlin a household name? Black men took this as another sign that the feminist movement, which has been accused of racism by black women for more than 100 years, can only get excited about the male chauvinism when it involves the brothers — Thomas, Tyson, or Miles Davis.
One of those who has hitched a ride to fame on the tail of the success of Troupe’s Miles Davis autobiography is writer Pearl Cleage. Sympathetic white media feminists at National Public Radio and even at Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley have given her air time to air views that coming from a Klanperson or Christian fundamentalist would be considered fascist, without so much as a challenge from her media hosts. Ms. Cleage proposes that because of serious flaws in Miles Davis’s personal life, his records should be destroyed. One wonders what the reception to such a proposal would have been had Ms. Cleage recommended that the records of well known misogynists like Vladimir Horowitz or Frank Sinatra — who, according to the Kitty Kelly biography, once pushed a woman through a plate glass window — suffer the same fate.
Spike Lee was criticized as a misogynist for the portrayal of women in his movies, yet little has been said of the portrayal of white women as “natural resources” in Rising Sun or Crimes and Misdemeanors, which argues that the way to deal with an independent woman is to murder her and get off, the same premise of Presumed Innocent.
Over the years, feminists at the Village Voice have raked a number of black artists, including Ed Bullins, lames Baldwin, Bill Gunn, William Demby, and |ohn A. Williams, but recently praised William Burroughs, who shot his wife.
In 1989 this singling out of black men by the feminist movement as the main perpetrators of misogyny affected the Troupe family personally. In March of that year, a co-ed at State University of New York at Stony Brook announced that she had been raped. A week later, Quincy Brandon Troupe, Quincy’s son, was arrested. Troupe was in Detroit at the time signing copies of his anthology, The Legacy, and reading from his work at Wayne State University, when he heard of the charges. On the night the alleged rape was supposed to have happened, Brandon was home helping the family prepare for his brother Porter’s birthday party.
There was no evidence whatsoever to prove the charge, yet black and white campus feminists lined up behind the rape victim. They believed with Anita Hill that the woman should always be believed. Though the charges were eventually dropped, the episode posed an ordeal for the Troupe family. By this time, Troupe’s celebrity deprived him of the anonymity that he had once enjoyed. People recognized him on the street, and he was besieged by autograph seekers. He was also accosted by those who believed that his son was guilty, regardless of the facts. Troupe chased a man from a subway car because the man had made a remark about his son’s guilt. While entering a prison, where Troupe conducted workshops, in the company of a crew from Bill Moyers’ show, a guard made a remark, and Troupe collared him. Other guards had to separate them.
With his new loss of privacy, the rise of crack addiction in his neighborhood, and the publicity that accompanied the unsubstantiated charges against his son, it was only a matter of time before the Troupes would leave New York.
When I visited the Troupes in their new home on Nautilus Street in La Jolla, I was struck by how much the setting, with its surrounding hills and view of the ocean, resembled Petionville, the home of the Haitian elite. Even the style of the home, a white jellyroll-shaped Bauhaus number, which was designed to receive the maximum light, reminded me of a Petionville villa. The home is filled with paintings by well-known white, African-American, Cuban, and Haitian artists.
The Troupes say they didn’t experience a single instance of racism while they searched for a home in La Jolla, which has a reputation for being a sort of white-only uppercrust enclave. It is from this base that the Troupes direct their activities as movers and shakers in the communities of La Jolla and San Diego. He is professor of literature and creative writing at UCSD and is an advisor to its Helen Edison Lecture Series. He is also the curator of the Artists on the Cutting Edge Series at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. His appointment to this post came about as a result of an invitation from director Hugh Davies, whom Troupe met at a party. He gave Troupe the autonomy to design a program that has brought in such famous literary figures as Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, Victor Cruz, Fanny Howe, and Jerome Rothenberg. Toni Morrison read on a program that included legendary drummer Max Roach. Next year’s lineup will include Margaret Atwood, Kathy Acker, Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, Oscar Hijuelos, Joy Harjo, Jessica Hagedorn, John Ashbery, and Walter Mosely.
Unlike the selfish New Black Elite who write about the problems of the inner city from Harvard and from well-heeled bohemian digs, Troupe, who, even at the height of New York literary success, made a decision to live in an underclass environment in Harlem, extends his generosity to the San Diego black Community. He is an advisor to the Sankofa Bird project, which brings writers and thinkers to the downtown black community. He has also begun a reading skills project aimed at black men, called Brother to Brother. African-American male literary culture is on the brink of extinction as a result of the belief held by feminists and powerful black male literary critics that the achievements of black women writers may only be gained by the denigration of black male writers. Quincy Troupe believes that the only way a black male literary culture can be sustained is by getting black men to read. He says that he already has a waiting list.
On the morning after my first interview with Troupe, during which he spoke of his great admiration for his father, Quincy Sr., he was informed that his father, who had been placed in a convalescent home, had died. It was during this lecture that I could understand why Troupe is such an effective teacher. He humanizes the classroom. If more and more students are refusing to enter college or are dropping out, it’s because the professors have made it clear that they’re not interested in them. For many professors, research, much of it duplicative of the work of others, is of prime importance, while teaching chores have been handed over to assistants, some of whom are of the same age group as the students. My most memorable teachers were those who not only put their heart and souls into their work but loved the subject matter and teaching. Troupe knows his stuff and can lecture on the Villanelle as well as Langston Hughes’s use of the blues.
Troupe, in obvious emotional pain, lectured about writing honestly, the poet versus the tyrant, the dance styles of Latin America, shooting sports films, and provided anecdotes about the womanizing habits of Pablo Neruda, Miles Davis, and his father. Neruda, Troupe said, taught him that you could write about anything, including the fungi between your toes. It was truly amazing to watch.
The class was reading Pablo Neruda’s memoirs, and at points during the lecture, they asked technical questions about Neruda’s approach to writing the personal narrative and about the writing of the Davis book. At one point Troupe said that he at first didn’t want to attend his father’s funeral, but that morning Margaret said that he had to go because the funeral was what gave life closure. He said that Margaret was very wise.
Brainy, glamorous, ambitious, inventive, Margaret Troupe met Quincy Troupe at a New York poetry reading. Poet lose Figeroa was reading, and a friend invited her to come along. Margaret was introduced to Quincy. She remembers placing her hand on his thigh and being given a hostile look by Troupe. She was so embarrassed that she went out to hail a cab, only to have Troupe approach the cab and ask her for chewing gum.
Quincy remembers it this way. He was the only other non-Puerto Rican appearing at a poetry reading. He noticed a black woman sitting in the audience and planned to talk to her but was diverted by Stanley Crouch. By the time he got to where she was, she’d left. He blamed Stanley for his missing her, and Stanley, to compensate, invited him to the Tin Palace for dinner. It was there that he was introduced to Margaret.
Margaret Porter Troupe hails from Gloster, Mississippi. She went to New York in 1969 and graduated from Iona College in New Rochelle, a New York City suburb. After being robbed there, she decided to move to New York City, where she got a job with The New York Times. Porter Troupe was born to Quincy and Margaret in 1983. Quincy and poet Calvin Hernton had gone out for a drink the night her water broke, and when he returned home at 1:00 a.m., he had to rush her to the hospital. After all-day labor that ended in Margaret having to have a C-section, Porter was born. Troupe recalls that the child came out looking as if to say, “So this is what I’ve been waiting nine months for?”
Though the Troupes miss New York — the convenience of walking to shop, the cultural life, and their friends, they enjoy San Diego’s slow pace and the politeness of its residents who, like Southerners, may not like you but are civil nevertheless, whereas, in New York, people are rude and often callous. It was in La folia that Margaret met Drina Krimm, a real estate agent who had been helping the Troupes find a house. In 1991 they opened the Porter Randall Gallery on La Jolla Boulevard.
Among the major painters who have exhibited there are Oliver Jackson, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Emilio Cruz, Jaune Quick-to-See, and Felipe Almada. Exhibits mounted by the gallery have received rave notices. Terry McMillan, Bradford Morrow, George Lewis, Sherley Anne Williams, Lynn Luria Sukenick, and Jesus Papoleto Melendez are writers who have read from their work at the gallery. (Quincy Troupe will be reading selections from his work at the gallery tomorrow, Friday, December 17, at 7:00 p.m.)
These activities and requests for his appearances keep Troupe on the road, traveling throughout the United States and Europe. Earlier this year he visited the Netherlands and Montreaux, Switzerland. Quincy Jones has requested that he write the official history of the Montreaux Jazz Festival series. The motion picture version of Miles, the autobiography, starring Wesley Snipes, whose script Troupe has already begun with co-writer Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Fuller, will add to his busy schedule. It is destined to become even busier as he begins to organize an event that could make San Diego a cultural hub of the West. With the assistance of Hugh Davies, local political leaders, and local chambers of commerce, Troupe wants to present a 1996 Festival of the Arts that would take place in San Diego and Tijuana. It would bring in theater, world music, dance concerts, art exhibits, and sports activities. The festival would draw visitors from Japan, Mexico, and Canada. Given Troupe’s gargantuan energy, dedication, humanity, generosity plus a huge dose of confidence, few doubt whether he can pull it off.