Troutt, David Dante

views updated

Troutt, David Dante


Born in New York, NY; married; wife's name Shawn; children: daughter, Naima. Education: Harvard Law School, J.D., 1991.


Home—Brooklyn, NY. Office—Rutgers School of Law-Newark, Center for Law and Justice, 123 Washington St., Newark, NJ 07102. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, educator. Rutgers School of Law, Newark, NJ, professor of law, Justice John J. Francis scholar, 1995—; previously practiced public interest and corporate law.


Best Books of 2007 citation, Kirkus Reviews, for The Importance of Being Dangerous.


The Monkey Suit, and Other Short Fiction on African Americans and Justice, New Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor) After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina, New Press (New York, NY), 2006.

The Importance of Being Dangerous (novel), Amistad (New York, NY), 2007.


Writer and attorney David Dante Troutt was born in the Harlem section of New York City. He graduated from Harvard University School of Law in 1991, and went on to practice corporate law and public interest law before he ultimately joined the faculty of the Rutgers University School of Law, where he is a Justice John J. Francis scholar. His primary research interests include metropolitan equity and race and also intellectual property and culture. In addition, Troutt has written and/or edited a number of books. The Monkey Suit, and Other Short Fiction on African Americans and Justice is a collection of short stories, each of which presents a factual event in history dating back as far as 1830, and then transforms it by weaving African Americans into the story, involving them in the legal controversies of various time periods. The cases that Troutt addresses vary from the principal Scottsboro Boys case to the first instance of a challenge regarding the constitutionality of segregation. Fannette H. Thomas, in a review for Library Journal, commented that "most of these finely crafted short stories read well." In a review for Booklist, Bonnie Smothers noted: "None of the ten stories mentions the doctrines they represent; most of them posit a viewpoint on racial inequity that will not soon be forgotten." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that "in a market crowded by lawyers-turned-writers, Troutt stands apart by examining the ordinary lives whose plights have helped shape the heart of American jurisprudence."

After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina, for which Troutt served as editor, takes a long hard look at the socioeconomic issues that helped to make Hurricane Katrina the tragedy that it was. While there are numerous thoughts and arguments regarding the structure of levies and other geographical dilemmas that led to the physical damage that resulted from the storm, there are also issues of race and poverty, disorganization, and a sense that the social structure of Louisiana played a major role in determining the state of the region. Several critics, however, found the essays inconsistent in their quality and direction, which proved a distraction from the overall message. Andrew Michael Fearnley, in a review for the American Studies Resource Center Web site, had a mixed opinion, stating: "The essays are uneven in length, quality, intended audience, and readability, and frequently one has the sense of having read the piece, either earlier in the collection or in the deluge of reportage that oozed from news bureaus in late 2005. Thankfully though, many of these essays are highly entertaining, and a number will surely stimulate further, more sustained thinking about the broader issues of race and class in contemporary American society." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked of the essays: "All are succinct and fresh, bound by the common question of whether there will be a new New Orleans."

Troutt's first novel, The Importance of Being Dangerous, is the story of three African Americans living in Harlem during the dot-com 1990s, who join an investment club out of desperation and wind up in a criminal conspiracy to get rich avenging the school-to-prison industrial complex. The protagonist is a thirty-something single mother who is grieving over the death of her parents and is frustrated with her job at the city's board of education. She meets several similarly frustrated characters, including a public defender with a mostly African American clientele, who is tired of working long hours for no reward and being at the mercy of a justice system that is so clearly flawed; and a computer programmer/comedian who is determined to get revenge on the establishment that pays him no attention. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews concluded: "This overstuffed novel nevertheless earns good marks for its nifty premise, crisp dialogue and well-handled plot."

Troutt told CA: "I have been interested in writing since I discovered the ability to tell stories and the willingness of anyone to listen. Fortunately, that happened when I was very young, like at four or five years of age.

"In that sense, my earliest influences were my parents, who were gifted and energetic storytellers and readers. Later, I was especially moved by the writers William Shakespeare, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, June Jordan, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Milan Kundera.

"My writing process tends to begin with big ideas—about both characters and plot situations—which I try to take on deliberately productive walks. I carry notebooks and take a lot of notes. Eventually, things gestate to the point of some kind of outline or schematic, with points of emphasis and clarity guiding the structure. Then, being employed in something other than fiction writing, I must schedule a time to be inspired and actually begin working. And then I write no matter what. Anything good generally comes during revisions, after I have had a chance to live with my mistakes a while.

"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer I probably should have known already: that it is very hard for your work to be found, even by some of the people close to you. Beyond that, I've been a little surprised at how much American fiction seems to be racially classified.

"My favorite book of mine so far is still The Monkey Suit, because of its many different voices. I look back and sometimes wonder how certain lives flowed through me during the time I was writing them.

"I hope my writing will stir people to think very deeply about their own lives in relation to others. I hope my readers will be moved by the work and will linger over and occasionally delight in the particular way I express things. I hope that readers—even those who object to my work—come away a little changed and a little challenged, yet refreshed by the sense that something foreign could still feel familiar."



ABA Journal, October, 1998, Linn Washington, review of The Monkey Suit, and Other Short Fiction on African Americans and Justice, p. 85.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, Bonnie Smothers, review of The Monkey Suit, p. 985.

Columbia Journalism Review, September 1, 2006, "Displaced Opportunity," p. 62.

Ebony, August, 2006, review of After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina, p. 29.

Harvard Law Review, March, 1998, review of The Monkey Suit, p. 1380.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2007, review of The Importance of Being Dangerous.

Library Journal, October 15, 1997, Fannette H. Thomas, review of The Monkey Suit, p. 97.

Publishers Weekly, November 3, 1997, review of The Monkey Suit, p. 65; June 26, 2006, review of After the Storm, p. 44.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2006, review of After the Storm.

Social Policy, fall, 2006, Jewel Bush, review of After the Storm.


American Studies Resource Center, (December 6, 2007), Andrew Michael Fearnley, review of After the Storm.

Rutgers School of Law Web site, (December 6, 2007), faculty profile.

University of California Law School Web site, (December 6, 2007), author profile.

About this article

Troutt, David Dante

Updated About content Print Article