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 ten 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 Book Award, three American Book Awards, the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award, a 2014 Furious Flower Lifetime Achievement Award and a 2018 Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Award.
Troupe’s latest two poetry books were released last 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. A reprint of Miles & Me (Seven Stories Press), a chronicle of Troupe’s friendship with Miles Davis was released last year. In addition, Troupe wrote the screenplay for a major motion picture based on his book Miles & Me which is scheduled for release this year.
Troupe discusses his work, literature, the political climate of the times and the role writers need to play on this stage called life.
50BOLD: Can you tell us about your recent books?
Troupe: I published three books last fall. Seduction is a compilation of new poems written between 2013 and 2018 and the other book, Ghost Voices, is a book-length poem in 13 parts; both books were published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. The third book is a reprint of Miles & Me, a memoir of my friendship with the late great jazz trumpet player, Miles Davis, which was first published by The University of California Press in 2000. The Davis reprint was published by Seven Stories Press, with a foreword by Rudy Langlais, who is the producer of the Miles & Me film scheduled to be released this year in theaters globally. I wrote the screenplay for the 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. I discussed the structure of the book and some interesting tidbits about Miles that weren’t mentioned in the memoir. A photo spread of about seven or eight never-before-seen pictures of Miles and I working on the book are also included in the memoir.
50BOLD: Can you describe your writing process? Do you write best at night? How many hours do you write per 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 wholly and fundamentally 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 1960s, 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 so, I write six or seven 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.
50BOLD: Who are your primary influences with regards to your writing? 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, César Vallejo; the West Indian poets Aime Cesaire, Derek Walcott, Léon Damas; the African poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivello; and the American poets Walt Whitman, Henry Dumas, Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Bob Kaufman, Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka.
As far as prose, I enjoy the Latin American writers Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Rulfo; the American novelists 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 Komunyakaa, Sharon Olds, K. Curtis Lyle, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Terrance Hayes, Angela Jackson, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Tyehimba Jess, Harryette Mullen, and in prose, Ishmael Reed, the late Roberto Bolanos, Jesmyn Ward, John Edgar Wideman, Junot Díaz, Arundhati Roy, Paul Beatty, Marlon James, as well as others too numerous to mention here.
50BOLD: 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 among 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 was replaced last fall by the well-known photographer and scholar, Deb Willis); Jaira Placide, the Assistant Director of the Institute; Cyd C. Fulton, Editorial Assistant and our website administrator, Mary Gibson.
50BOLD: What and/or who inspires your work?
Troupe: Everything wonderful, provocative, beautiful and creative I encounter each and every day is inspiring, which could be anything – the natural world, something someone said, some fantastic food I might have eaten, music, a painting, the style and beauty of a man, or woman, the grace of a human being or animal. I am inspired by something that provokes thought and creativity.
50BOLD: What books are you currently reading and what books do you recommend to young writers?
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 with me by Natasha Trethewey, who is from Mississippi, to turn the kids on to her. I also took two of Richard Wright’s books (who is also from Mississippi), Black Boy and Haiku to share with the kids. For my own enjoyment, I took the book Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston and The Lazarus Poems by Kamau Brathwaite.
50BOLD: What are your thoughts on what is going on politically in our country now? What are your views on the role of artists 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 to make money for himself and his family. He is ignorant. He doesn’t read anything which doesn’t mean he isn’t smart because he is, but in an evil, unethical way. He gets all of his information from the idiot tube – television – and mostly from Fox News, the most corrupt media in this country; they specialize 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 wannabe dictator, who actually sees himself as a king, and 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 in this country is to address this current state of corruption, and to also produce art that is uplifting, hopeful, creative and beautiful. 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 that is a Donald Trump.
I refuse to give him and his host of complying idiots, all of my energy and attention. Trump wants and craves attention; we don’t have to give it to him as the media does regularly covering his divide-and-conquer tweets. They should stop putting the spotlight on his juvenile temper tantrums because doing so will drive him crazy. All he craves is recognition which is why he’s always throwing these shiny balls up in the air so everyone will look and 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.
I want to see what will happen if Trump doesn’t get any attention but I don’t think this will happen because he makes so much money for the media who talk about him all day and night. The press has to grow a backbone!
50BOLD: How many years have you and Margaret been married? How many children do you have? How do you balance family life and career which are common issues writers struggle with constantly?
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 Europe and specifically in Romania. Our son is 6’6″, very handsome, speaks five 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 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 lives in St. Louis also.
At the moment, I have eleven grandchildren and four great-grandkids. I have no problem balancing my family life because everyone knows and accepts that I am a writer, so they understand not to bother me when I am working. When I’m not working and we all get together we have tons of fun!
50BOLD: Can you please provide some favorite highlights from Miles & Me and share a few tidbits about the special friendship you had with Miles.
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” are 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 and brutally honest as Miles Davis. 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 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. Miles was amazing, and I have never, ever met anyone even close to being like him in that regard. Miles was also kind if he liked you and 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, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, but no monies were given to ANY political party, or church.
Miles was also a very shy person, who didn’t like crowds when he wasn’t playing, and man, he was funny! He used to crack me up all the time with his humor. What a lot of people don’t know is that Miles 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, and Sly Stone. He loved women and women loved him. The clothes he wore were off-the-chain stylish. I mean the man was a walking, talking, playing musical genius; he was innovative.
In my lifetime, I don’t think I will meet 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. As you stated, I had a “special friendship” with Miles 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.
Reprinted with permission from African Voices.