A Conversation with Quincy Troupe on Writing, Arts & Politics
By Angela Kinamore
AV Poetry Editor
When you read the poems of Quincy Troupe, one can’t help but be motivated by the power of the astounding messages that shines through his words. This linguistic master is the author of 20 books, including 10 volumes of poetry and three children’s books. His writings have been translated into over 30 languages. Troupe’s distinguished legacy is rich with awards that include the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, the Milt Kessler Poetry Award, three American Book Awards, the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, a 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from Furious Flower and a 2018 Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Award.
His two latest poetry books were released this fall. Seduction, a collection of poems written within the last six years, and Ghost Voices, a 13-part epic poem, are published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. Also published in September is a reprint of Miles and me (Seven Stories Press), a chronicle of Troupe’s friendship with Miles Davis. In addition, Mr. Troupe wrote the screenplay for a major motion picture based on Miles and Me, which is scheduled for release in 2019.
Mr. Troupe discusses with African Voices his work, literature, the political climate of the day and the role writers are needed to play on this stage called life.
AV: Can you tell us about your forthcoming books and when they will be published?
Troupe: I have three books being published in the fall of 2018, two books of poems, with one titled Seduction, which is a compilation of new poems written between 2013 and 2018 and the other book is titled, Ghost Voices and it is a book length poem in 13 parts; both books will be published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. The third book is a reprint of Miles and me, a memoir of my friendship with the late great trumpet player, Miles Davis, first published by The University of California Press in 2000. This book will be published by Seven Stories Press, with a forward by Rudy Langlais, who is the producer of the Miles and me film scheduled to be release in theaters across the United States and the world in 2019. I wrote the screenplay for this film and I am listed as an Executive Producer. There is also an interview with me in the back of the book, conducted by my editor, Dan Simon (the publisher of Seven Stories Press) about the writing of Miles and me, the structure of the book and other interesting tidbits about Miles that wasn’t covered in the memoir. There is also a spread of seven or eight photos of Miles and me by photographer Jon Stevens, which shows us working on the book and just relaxing that have never been published before.
AV: Can you describe your writing process? What is your regiment? Do you write best at night? How many hours do you write a day?
Troupe: I usually work on various projects at once, though I seldom write poetry and prose at the same time. The reason for this is that at my core I think of myself spiritually as a poet. So whenever I have attempted to write both forms at the same time poetry fundamentally and completely takes over and pushes my attempt to write prose aside, that’s why I separate the two forms because I don’t want to be frustrated.
When I first began thinking of myself as a serious writer back in the 1960’s, I generally wrote at night when everything was quiet. Now, I write mostly early in the morning, usually between 5 or 6 am and into the early afternoon. Sometimes though, when I am really rolling I write deep into the night.
Whenever I am working hard on a book, or just writing for the pleasure of doing it, I write 6 or 7 hours a day. I don’t like to be disturbed when I am really in that magical, mysterious place where creativity lives, so I close the door to my study and my wife of 40 years, Margaret, never bothers me unless there is an emergency.
AV: Who are the primary influences on your writing and who are your favorite writers, poets, visual artists and musicians today?
Troupe: As a poet my most profound influences are the Latin American poets, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, the West Indian poets Aime Cesaire, Derek Walcott, Leon Damas, the African poets Jean-Joseph Rabearivello, the American poets Walt Whitman, Henry Dumas, Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Bob Kaufman, Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka. In prose, the Latin American Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo, the Americans Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. Some of my favorite poets and novelists writing today are the poets Yusef Komunyaka, Sharon Olds, K. Curtis Lyle, Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Terrance Hayes, Angela Jackson, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Tyehimba Jess, Harryette Mullin and in prose, Ishmael Reed, the late Roberto Bolanos, Jesmyn Ward, John Edgar Wideman, Junot Diaz, Arundhati Roy, Paul Beatty, Marlon James as well as others too numerous to mention here.
AV: What are your efforts to support other writers and visual artists through the journal you edit Black Renaissance Noire, published by the Institute of African American Affairs at New York University?
Troupe: My goal as Editor of Black Renaissance Noire is to publish as many deserving well-known, unknown, up and coming writers, poets, visual artists as I can in our pages. I love beautiful, innovative, risk-taking, forward thinking magazines and journals. I want to have our journal considered amongst the very top publications of its kind in the world. In that effort, I am blessed to have working with me a wonderful, creative Arts Director, Cesar Cruz, as well as the great editorial assistance my wife, Margaret, brings to this effort. I could not have done this work for the last 15 years without the great support of Manthia Diawara, Director of the African American Institute (who will be replaced by the well known photographer and scholar, Deb Willis in the fall); Jaira Placide, the Assistant Director of the Institute; Cyd C. Fulton, Editorial Assistant and our website administrator, Mary Gibson.
AV: What and/or who inspires your work?
Troupe: Everything wonderful, provocative, beautiful and creative I encounter each and every day, which could be anything – the natural world, something someone said, some fantastic food I might eat, music, a painting, the style and beauty of a man, or woman, the grace of a human being or animal. Something that provokes thought and creativity inspires me.
AV: What books are you currently reading and what do you recommend young writers to read?
Troupe: I just finished Toni Morrison’s small but heavy book, The Origin of Others and I’m always reading Derek Walcott’s, White Egrets. Last July, I traveled to Gloster, Mississippi (my wife’s hometown) for a month to teach young kids, I carried a book of poems by Natasha Tretheway, who is from Mississippi, to turn on to the kids and Richard Wright’s (who is also from Mississippi) Black Boy and his book Haiku to also expose to the kids. For my own enjoyment, I took with me Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, by Zora Neale Hurston and the Lazarus poems, by the Jamaican poet, kamau brathwaite.
AV: What are your thoughts on what is going on politically in our country right now and what is your view on the role of artist and writers in this political climate?
Troupe: I can’t remember living in such a corrupt state of affairs as we are living through at the moment in the United States. Donald Trump is a kleptocrat, a criminal, an absolute liar to the bone, with no thought in his head other than making money for himself and his family. He is ignorant, doesn’t read anything – that doesn’t mean he isn’t smart because he is but in an absolutely evil, unethical way. He gets all of his information off of the idiot tube – television – and mostly from Fox News, which is the most corrupting media in this country and specializes in dumbing down all who watch.
Trump is a complete narcissist and this attitude has completely corrupted the Republican party through and through. He is an autocrat, a wanna be dictator, who actually sees himself as a king, who wants everyone to bow down to him and kiss his hand. He is a terrible man, racist, sexist to the bone. So I think the role of the artist and writer is to address this state of corruption in this country, but also to produce art that is uplifting, hopeful, creative and beautiful. Because in the end artists and writers have to be innovative, risk takers in what we do. Which means we can’t always be addressing the evil state of affairs of a Donald Trump.
I refuse to give him and the host of complying idiots who surround and praise him all of my energy and attention. Because that’s what Trump wants, he craves the attention but we don’t have to give it to him, like the media does, talking incessantly about his divide and conquer tweets. They should stop covering his juvenile little two-year-old temper tantrums, because if they do that it will drive him crazy; all he craves is recognition, that’s why he’s always throwing these shiny little balls up in the air so everyone’s eyes will look at them, talk about them, especially the corrupt corporate media, which is making boatloads of money plastering this little man’s fat, puffy face all over their airwaves.
So I want to see what will happen if he doesn’t get any attention? That’s what I want to see, but I don’t think that will happen because he makes so much money for the media who talk about him all day long and through the night. The media has to grow a backbone, a spine and stop showing this clown who is tearing apart the fabric of this nation, dividing everyone while he stuffs his pockets and bank accounts with money, and wrecks and poisons the environment. It’s a sad spectacle what has happened to this country after the presidency of Barack Obama, we have lost so much respect around the globe since Trump and his cohorts stole the presidency by suppressing the vote count in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
AV: How many years have you and Margaret been married? How many children do you have? How do balance family life and a career as a writer? This is a common issue that writers struggle with.
Troupe: Margaret and I have been together for 40 years, we have one son together, Porter, who is 35-years-old, and plays professional basketball in Romania and in Europe. He is 6 feet 6, very handsome, speaks five different languages fluently and has turned out to be a well-rounded young man. I have three other children by two different women – one male, Quincy Brandon and two females, Antoinette and Yamila – who are also doing quite well. My son Brandon lives in New Jersey and he is married with three kids – two girls and a boy. Antoinette lives in St. Louis, Missouri and she has two daughters. Yamila has six children and she lives in St. Louis also. At the moment, I have eleven grandchildren and four great grand kids. I have no problem balancing my family life because everyone knows and accepts that I am a writer, so they know not to bother when I am working. When I’m not working and we all get together we have tons of fun!
AV: Please share with us your favorite highlights from your book, Miles and me. Or share with us your thoughts on Miles and the special friendship you had with him.
Troupe: I think people should read the book and extract from those pages the highlights that fascinate them, because for me to talk about what my “favorite highlights” were it would take up too many pages! What I can address is what a special person Miles Davis was for me and I can pass along some thoughts regarding why I loved the man.
In all my years on earth – 79 to be exact – I have never met a person who was as straight up, brutally honest as Miles Davis was! He never pulled any punches about what he liked and didn’t like, no matter whom he was talking to! Rich or poor, famous or unknown, powerful; influential, or not, White or Black, big or small, it didn’t matter. He would say exactly what was on his mind! Right to the person’s face and not behind their back! It was amazing and I have never, ever met anyone even close to being like Miles Davis in that regard. Also, he was kind if he liked you and he ignored you if he didn’t. He was generous with his money and his time if he felt you deserved it. He gave money to SNCC, the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, but no money to ANY political party, or church!
He was also a very shy person, who didn’t like crowds when he wasn’t playing and man was he funny! He used to crack me up all the time with his humor! What a lot of people don’t know is that he didn’t use any drugs, or even drink, or smoke for the last 8 to 10 years of his life. He swam every morning for an hour so he was in shape. He loved great catfish and barbecue, didn’t listen to any of his old music, loved Jimi Hendrix, Mozart, Beethoven, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Michael Jackson, Sly Stone. He loved women and women loved him. The clothes he wore were off the chain hip, stylish, beautiful and cutting edge. I mean the man was a walking, talking, playing musical genius, innovative.
I don’t think I will see in my lifetime another spirit like Miles Davis, and I think I speak for many of us all over the world who cherished the gifts he left us. Like you said I had a “special friendship” with him and thank him for allowing me to be in his life in that way. It was a privilege to know him in the way that I did.
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