A Poet Who Took the Old Philosopher's Advice Quincy Troupe's Talk with Jean-Paul Sartre Guided Writing Career

By Miles, David | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

A Poet Who Took the Old Philosopher's Advice Quincy Troupe's Talk with Jean-Paul Sartre Guided Writing Career


Miles, David, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


`GO back to Jamaica and take your drugs with you!" the man yelled from his car at Quincy Troupe, who had been taking a stroll along Euclid Avenue in St. Louis' Central West End.

It is ironically emblematic that these harsh words were directed at the author and poet, for much of his writing deals with the need to overcome such hurtful stereotypes. Race, music, family and his hometown of St. Louis also figure prominently in Troupe's writing.

Troupe's writing dates back to when he wrote and illustrated his own comic books as a child. He regrets that at the time "no black people in St. Louis were encouraged to do a thing about becoming a writer." Confronted by the conservative and racist attitudes of 1950s St. Louis, Troupe felt that he needed to leave the city. He recalls: "I always knew I did not want to remain in St. Louis. I was not going to stay in St. Louis for the rest of my life." Troupe found his way out of St. Louis when he left for Grambling College (now Grambling State University). After college, Troupe went to France, where he played on the All-Army basketball team. Sidelined with a knee injury, he wrote approximately two pages of a novel about a black man living in France, which he describes as "awesomely bad." A French woman whom Troupe was dating mentioned that her family knew philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre and perhaps could set up a rendezvous. Troupe relates, "I didn't know who Jean-Paul Sartre was, this little guy with owl eyes and glasses. I remember him telling me that he hated poetry, but that I should write poetry. And then, lo and behold, I found out that I really, really liked it." Troupe has come a long way as a poet since he started carrying a notebook around Paris in the early 1960s. His fifth collection of poems, "Avalanche," is in the bookstores. The title of the book came about after Troupe read one of his poems to author K. Curtis Lyle, who responded, "Man, this is like an avalanche." The structure of the book mirrors the stages of an avalanche. Troupe says that "the first section in this book is introduced by this cracking, this cacophonous language coming at you in a rush. Then after that rush is over, the second part of an avalanche is when everything is trying to settle. So the second section is a group of poems that are up and down like that. After that is over with, there is this third stage of an avalanche where everything is quiet and you have a new landscape. So the poems in that section are formalistic." Troupe, who received an American Book Award in 1990 for co-authoring "Miles: The Autobiography," is finishing "The Genius of Miles Davis," due to be out early next year. In his second book on Davis, Troupe uses the forms of historical essay and personal memoir to explore the musical genius of the legendary trumpeter from East St. Louis. Troupe contends that "what made Miles a genius was the focus, the risk-taking, also ability. He was a great synthesizer of styles. In other words, he was a great sponge. He could sponge everything: rock 'n' roll, blues, gospel, jazz, popular music. "Beyond that, his uncanny genius of selecting sidemen. He had the ability to pick and see great musicians before they were great. They were always younger and they would push him forward." Troupe uses his hometown as the primary backdrop for his first novel, "The Footman Chronicles. …

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