Troupe, Quincy (Thomas, Jr.) 1943-

views updated

TROUPE, Quincy (Thomas, Jr.) 1943-

PERSONAL: Born July 23, 1943, in St. Louis, MO; son of Quincy, Sr. (a baseball player), and Dorothy (Marshall Smith) Troupe; married Margaret Porter; children: Antoinette, Tymme, Quincy, Porter. Education: Attended Grambling College, 1959-60.

ADDRESSES: Home—La Jolla, CA. Agent—Marie Brown, 412 West 154th St., No. 2, New York, NY 10032.

CAREER: Watts Writers' Movement, Los Angeles, CA, creative writing teacher, 1966-68; Shrewd (magazine), Los Angeles, associate editor, beginning 1968; University of California, Los Angeles, instructor in creative writing and black literature, 1968; Ohio University, Athens, instructor in creative writing and Third World literature, 1969-71; Richmond College, Staten Island, NY, instructor in third world literature, associate professor of American and third world literatures and director of poetry center, 1971-90; Columbia University, New York, NY, member of faculty of Graduate Writing Program, beginning 1985; instructor at institutions, including University of California at Berkeley, California State University at Sacramento, and University of Ghana at Legon; University of California at San Diego, instructor in creative writing and American, African American, and Caribbean literature, 1991-2002. Director of Malcolm X Center and John Coltrane summer festivals in Los Angeles, summers, 1969 and 1970. Has given poetry readings at various institutions, including Harvard University, New York University, Howard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Louisiana State University, Dartmouth College, Oberlin College, Ohio State University, University of Michigan, and Michigan State University. Presenter of lecture and readings series "Life Forces: A Festival of Black Roots" at the Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Code magazine, editorial director, beginning 2000. Military service: Served in U. S. Army, 1961, stationed in France.

MEMBER: Poetry Society of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: International Institute of Education grant for travel in Africa, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts Award in poetry, 1978; grant from New York State Council of the Arts, 1979; American Book Awards, Association of American Publishers, 1980, for Snake-back Solos, and 1990, for Miles: The Autobiography; New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in poetry, 1987; Peabody Award, 1991, for The Miles Davis Radio Project; two-time winner, World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout, Taos Poetry Circus; named poet laureate of California, 2002 (resigned).


(Editor) Watts Poets: A Book of New Poetry and Essays, House of Respect, 1968.

Embryo Poems, 1967-1971 (includes "South African Bloodstone—For Hugh Masekela," "Chicago—For Howlin Wolf," "Profilin, A Rap/Poem—For Leon Damas," "The Scag Ballet," "Midtown Traffic," "Woke Up Crying the Blues," "The Earthquake of Peru; 1970; In 49 Seconds—For Cesar Vallejo, Great Peruvian Poet," "In the Manner of Rabearivello," "Poem from the Third Eye—For Eugene Redmond," and "Black Star, Black Woman"), Barlenmir (New York, NY), 1972, 2nd edition, 1974.

(Editor, with Rainer Schulte) Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writings, Random House (New York, NY), 1975.

(Author of foreword) Arnold Adoff, editor, Celebrations: A New Anthology of Black American Poetry, Follet (Chicago, IL), 1977.

(With David L. Wolper) The Inside Story of TV's "Roots," Warner Books (New York, NY), 1978.

Snake-back Solos: Selected Poems, 1969-1977 (includes "Springtime Ritual," "The Day Duke Raised," "La Marqueta," "For Miles Davis," "Up Sun South of Alaska," "Today's Subway Ride," "New York Streetwalker," "Steel Poles Give Back No Sweat," "Ghanaian Song—Image," and "Memory"), I. Reed Books (New York, NY), 1978.

Quincy Troupe Reading His Poems with Comment in the Recording Laboratory (sound recording), Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1978.

Skulls along the River (poetry), I. Reed Books (New York, NY), 1984.

Soundings, Writers & Readers (New York, NY), 1988.

(Editor) James Baldwin: The Legacy, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Miles Davis) Miles: The Autobiography, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY, 1989.

Weather Reports: New and Selected Poems, Writers & Readers (New York, NY, 1991.

(With Michael S. Harper) Michael S. Harper and Quincy Troupe Reading Their Poems (sound recording), Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1994.

Avalanche: Poems, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Choruses: Poems, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.

Miles and Me, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2000.

Take It to the Hoop, Magic Johnson (juvenile poetry), illustrated by Shane W. Evans/Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2000.

Transcircularities: New and Selected Poems, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Little Stevie Wonder (juvenile poetry), illustrated by Lisa Cohen, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.

Also author of a screenplay, with Hugh Masekala; author of film script Thelonious Monk: American Composer, for Multiprises Film (New York, NY). Also founding editor of Confrontation: A Journal of Third World Literature and American Rag; guest editor of black poetry and black fiction issues of Mundus Artium, 1973; senior editor of River Styx, 1983—. Work represented in anthologies, including The New Black Poetry, 1969; We Speak As Liberators, 1970; New Black Voices, 1972; Black Spirits, 1972; Poetry of Black America, 1973; and A Rock against the Wind, 1973. Contributor to periodicals, including New Directions, Mundus Artium, Iowa Review, Black World, Callaloo, Essence, Antioch Review, Black Creation, Negro American Literature Forum, Umbra, Mediterranean Review, Concerning Poetry, Sumac, Paris Match, Black Review, New York Quarterly, and Village Voice.

ADAPTATIONS: Miles: The Autobiography is scheduled for production as a film directed by Spike Lee.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A memoir, a novel.

SIDELIGHTS: Quincy Troupe is best known for his poetry that is a "melding [of] rap, jazz and be-bop rhythms," as Tony Perry noted in the Los Angeles Times. Twice winner of the American Book Award and a respected professor at the University of California at San Diego, Quincy made headlines in 2002, not for his poetry, however, but for a scandal involving falsified academic credentials.

Throughout a career that began in the late 1960s, Troupe has written verse that celebrates "jazz, sports, and the streets of St. Louis," as Robin Wilson commented in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In such poetry, Troupe employs a "furious rush of images, sometimes jarring, arising from personal experience," as Perry further commented. Troupe is "a poet of great feeling and energy," according to Michael S. Harper, reviewing Snake-back Solos: Selected Poems, 1969-1977 in the New York Times Book Review. Troupe has also founded and edited magazines such as Confrontation: A Journal of Third World Literature and American Rag, in addition to having a distinguished academic career. Born in St. Louis, Troupe grew up listening to jazz and playing baseball, influenced by his father, who was a catcher in the Negro baseball leagues. Troupe also began a lifelong love of reading; graduating from high school in 1959, he went to Grambling College on a baseball scholarship, but disputes with white southern athletes and required chapel soon sent him packing. In 1961 he enlisted in the army, but following a knee injury he began writing and discovered a new direction.

Moving to Los Angeles after leaving the army, he began teaching creative writing for the Watts Writers' Movement in 1966; his other teaching responsibilities have included courses in black literature and third world literature. Troupe was already an established poet, and his scholarly interests had led him to compile Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writings with Rainer Schulte, when in 1978 he reached a wider audience with The Inside Story of TV's "Roots." The book, which Troupe wrote with David L. Wolper, chronicles the production of the highly successful television miniseries about slavery in America, Roots, which was based on Alex Haley's book of the same title. Troupe's Inside Story has sold over one million copies. Acclaim for his writing spread even further after he collaborated with jazz great Miles Davis on Miles: The Autobiography, which won the American Book Award.

Troupe's first poetic publication came in 1964 when Paris Match featured his "What Is a Black Man?" Since then he has contributed poetry to many periodicals in addition to having volumes of his poems published in book form. The first of these, Embryo Poems, includes poems that display Troupe's interests in the use of dialect, such as "Profilin, A Rap/Poem—For Leon Damas," and in the area of music, such as "The Scag Ballet." The latter poem depicts the actions of drug addicts as a strange form of dance; another piece likens traffic noises to "black jazz piano." Yet another, "Woke Up Crying the Blues," concerns the assassination of black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The sadness the speaker of the poem feels at the loss of "the peaceful man from Atlanta" mingles with the happiness of the news that one of his poems has been accepted for publication, producing a mixture of emotion essential to the singing of a blues song.

Snake-back Solos, Troupe's second volume of poetry, takes its title from a local name—"Snakeback"—for the Mississippi River, recalled from the poet's childhood in St. Louis. Harper cited such poems as "Today's Subway Ride" in praising Troupe's descriptions of "the strange reality of familiar scenes." The subway is painted starkly, its unpleasant atmosphere displayed in "pee smells assaulting nostrils / blood breaking wine stains everywhere." Though Harper faulted the repetition of some of Snake-back Solos, including "Up Sun South of Alaska," he lauded "Ghanaian Song—Image" and "Memory" as "striking" and concluded that "the strength and economy" of the poet's "best insights . . . are about people and places he has internalized and often left behind."

Troupe's academic work has also garnered applause from critics. Giant Talk was declared "comprehensive" by Jack Slater in the New York Times Book Review. The book, which Troupe edited with Rainer Schulte, contains poems, folk tales, short stories, and novel excerpts by black Americans, native Americans, Hispanic Americans, black Africans, and Central and South Americans. According to Slater, the editors define third world writers as "those who identify with the historically exploited segment of mankind, and who confront the establishment on their behalf"; hence the inclusion of U.S.-born authors along with those native to areas more traditionally identified with the third world. Slater hailed the editors' decision to group the anthologized pieces by concept rather than by geographical area or genre. By using categories like "Oppression and Protest" and "Ritual and Magic," Troupe and Schulte "have managed to lessen the unwieldiness of Giant Talk's scope. The uninitiated reader can, therefore, savor with as much ease as possible bits and pieces of longer works . . . as well as enjoy complete works by . . . short-story writers and poets."

James Baldwin: The Legacy, published after Baldwin's death in 1987, is "a sustained fond retrospect," Nicholas Delbanco remarked in a Chicago Tribune Books review. The book includes tributes and remembrances "studded with remarkable images that attest to the writer's continuing brilliance" from Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and others, Charles R. Larson commented in the Washington Post Book World, and ends with an interview with Baldwin, conducted by Troupe several weeks before the author's death, which is "spirited and funny at times," Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Clancy Sigal noted. Delbanco related Troupe's description of the book: "'It is a celebration of the life, the vision and, yes, the death of our good and great, passionate, genius witness of a brother, James Arthur Baldwin.'"

Troupe's work on the autobiography of Miles Davis earned him even more critical praise, along with the prestigious American Book Award. Commenting on the resounding success of his collaboration with the legendary musician, Troupe was quoted as saying by Nzadi Zimele Keita in American Visions, "He didn't scare me. I wasn't in awe or anything; I loved his music, and he was one of my early heroes, but I told him that that was where it stopped, that he was a human being. . . . So I guess he felt I could probably withstand his personality." Keita noted that the "long, gritty process of writing the book" yielded a genuine bonding between Davis and Troupe, resulting in "a candid, though controversial, best seller."

Troupe parlayed that relationship into yet another book, Miles and Me, a "book on interviewing Miles Davis for the autobiography on which they collaborated," according to Douglas Henry Daniels, writing in African American Review. Daniels also commented that the book "analyzes [Troupe's] discoveries of the music in his St. Louis homeboy." For Daniels, Miles and Me is an "invaluable work" not just for the personal material on Davis and his influence on music, but also for Troupe's examination of the jazz musician's power to affect "dress style, slang, and . . . the general demeanor of Black urban males." Reviewing the work in the New York Times Book Review, Gene Santoro noted that Troupe discovered through his collaboration with Davis "a complex, sometimes lonely, even shy man." But, according to Santoro, Troupe also reveals an artist with a "laser-like focus" as well as an inner "discipline and drive that helped push him out of replicating past achievements." Similarly, Booklist's Bill Ott found Troupe's book to be a "revealing look at a musical genius and a tender, surprisingly sweet remembrance." Library Journal's William Kenz also noted that Troupe's work "reveals Davis as profoundly, artistically sensitive yet maddeningly mean-spirited and rude," while a contributor for Publishers Weekly thought that the "most compelling" part of the remembrance was Troupe's reconstruction of Davis's influence on his (Troupe's) own coming of age.

Troupe continued to demonstrate his skill as a poet, even after his success with other genres. Reviewing Avalanche, a Publishers Weekly writer advised that in the collection, "Troupe . . . writes with unchecked expression, redundant and inclusive. If it were any more laden, Avalanche would be inchoate. Any less would be our loss." In the 1999 verse collection Choruses, Troupe covers "a wide cultural bandwidth," in the words of another Publishers Weekly reviewer. Musicians, sports stars, and artists are sketched in his poems, as are contemporary issues and events, in what the critic called a "varied and deftly sung" collection. In the 2002 collection Transcircularities, Troupe "demonstrates his ebullient and undimmed powers," according to yet another reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Gathering poems from eight previous books, Troupe also adds some new pieces, many of which honor jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Bud Powell. In "9/11 Emergency Calls Coming into Manhattan," the poet also addresses the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Reviewing the same work in Black Issues Book Review, Hoke S. Glover III felt it was a "comprehensive collection." Glover further called Troupe a "master of rhythm, repetition and song."

In 2002 Troupe was named California's first Poet Laureate, but the honor turned out to be double-edged. While doing a background check on the poet, the state discovered that Troupe did not have the bachelor's degree from Grambling College that he had claimed while teaching in New York. Put on leave by the university after admitting the lie, Troupe ultimately resigned his lucrative teaching position in December, 2002, despite protests from colleagues and students who wanted the popular and charismatic teacher to remain. As Wilson pointed out in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Many . . . say the university over-reacted and pushed Mr. Troupe out. As a poet, they believed, it was Mr. Troupe's writing, not his academic credentials, that had earned him his job." Others disagreed, including Martha C. Nussbaum, professor of law, divinity, and philosophy at the University of Chicago. As quoted by Wilson, Nussbaum claimed, "You don't want somebody there teaching students who gives that kind of moral example. It's a wrong that goes to the heart of the integrity of the academic enterprise." For his part, Troupe also quit his honorary position as Poet Laureate of California and apologized for his lie, but also protested the fact that he had been a good instructor, degree or no degree. "There was some kind of suggestion that I was not doing my job," Troupe—quoted by Wilson—said. "But I was publishing books, I was bringing honor to the school, and the students loved me. I didn't cheat anybody."



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 41: Afro-American Poets since 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.


African American Review, spring, 2001, Douglas Henry Daniels, review of Miles and Me, pp. 152-153.

American Visions, February-March, Nzadi Zimele Keita, "Quincy Troupe," 1993, p. 30.

Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2002, Hoke S. Clover III, review of Transcircularities, p. 63.

Black Scholar, March-April, 1981; summer, 1990.

Booklist, March 15, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Miles and Me, p. 1311.

Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2003, Robin Wilson, "Fall from Grace: One Lie, Retold over 26 Years, Undoes a Professor's Teaching Career," p. A10.

down beat, December, 1989, p. 69; November, 1990, p. 68.

Economist, March 17, 1990, p. 86.

Essence, September, 1989, p. 28.

Freedomways, Volume 10, number 2, 1980.

Library Journal, October 1, 1989, p. 97; February 15, 2000, William Kenz, review of Miles and Me, p. 165.

Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2002, Tony Perry, "Poet Resigns Post at UC San Diego over Resume Lie," p. B6.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 30, 1989, Clancy Sigal, review of James Baldwin: The Legacy, p. 1.

Mother Jones, December, 1989, p. 42.

Nation, January 29, 1990, p. 139.

New Republic, February 12, 1990, p. 30.

New Statesman, January 5, 1990, p. 34.

New York Times Book Review, November 30, 1975, Jack Slater, review of Giant Talk; October 21, 1979, Michael S. Harper, review of Snake-black Solos; October 15, 1989, p. 7; April 9, 2000, Gene Santoro, review of Miles and Me, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, March 17, 1989, p. 88; September 1, 1989, p. 69; January 20, 1992, p. 58; August 2, 1993, p. 31; March 18, 1996, review of Avalanche, p. 66; August 30, 1999, review of Choruses, p. 78; February 7, 2000, review of Miles and Me, pp. 77-78; September 23, 2002, Michael Scharf, review of Transcircularities, p. 69.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 2000, Kevin C. Johnson, "Larry Flynt-Backed Code Gives Black Males a Voice," p. E1.

Tribune Books, (Chicago), March 19, 1989, Nicholas Delbanco, review of James Baldwin.

Variety, January 3, 1990, p. 46.

Washington Post Book World, April 16, 1989, Charles R. Larson, review of James Baldwin, p. 1.


Academy of American Poets Web site, (May 1, 2003).*