With a new poetry collection and still thriving career, Quincy Troupe’s literary legacy is writ large

Troupe will discuss his decades-long writing career in a virtual roundtable with friends Danny Glover and Terry McMillan on Feb. 10.

As a poet, author, editor, and educator, Quincy Troupe has chronicled the stories of some of America’s most striking figures.

Among the biographies and tributes he has edited or co-written are James Baldwin (editor: James Baldwin: The Legacy), NBA great Earl Monroe (Earl the Pearl), entrepreneur-philanthropist Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness), and his late friend, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis (Miles: the Autobiography and miles and me). With a career now spanning over 60 years and multiple genres, Troupe is a legend in his own right, the holder of an impressive literary legacy captured in his latest collection of poetry, Duende: Poems, 1966-Now.

Quincy Troupe thegrio.com
(Credit: Penguin Random House/ Troupe)

The over 600-page collection is a master class in poetry conveyed in Troupe’s characteristically lyrical style, always with a love for Black and brown people at its center. Lauded by fellow writers, scholars, and luminaries since its late January release, longtime friends actor Danny Glover and author Terry McMillan will discuss Troupe’s latest release and ongoing career via a virtual roundtable hosted by the San Francisco Public Library on Thursday, Feb. 10.

Speaking with theGrio, the poet and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego discussed the wide breadth of both literary and musical influences that have colored his work and how he hopes readers will receive Duende.

“As a poet, I fervently hope that people who read Duende engage with my poetry, and also understand that this book of 656 pages spans close to 60 years and covers many different styles and influences by several important poets, mainly: Pablo Neruda, Amiri Baraka, Jean Joseph Rabéarivelo, Cesar Vallejo, Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia Lorca, Gabriel García Márquez, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Aimé Césaire and Derek Walcott, to name a few.

My poetry is also influenced by the rhythms of contemporary music, especially Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Hamiet Bluiett, Kelvyn Bell, Kassav’, Julius Hemphill, Bob Marley, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Tabou Combo, John Lee Hooker, Living Colour, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, rock-n-roll, jazz, rap and even some classical European music,” he says.

“My work has also been impacted by some contemporary visual artists,” he continues, “like the Ethiopian painter Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian, the Cuban José Bedia Valdés, Americans Oliver Jackson, Romare Bearden, Al Loving, Peter Bradley, Mary Lovelace O’ Neal, Mildred Howard, Jacob Lawrence, Ed Clark, Raymond Sanders, Melvin Edwards, and so many others.”

If his influences are broad, looking at the accolades that have poured in for Duende, it’s impossible to ignore the 82-year-old’s influence upon a similarly broad scope of generations.

“In this career-spanning collection, you don’t just read Quincy Troupe’s poetry,” writes Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, author of The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois. “You are lifted by his word. You ride syllables and sound and glory. You grasp articulated root-working, know that you are traveling with mastery, the ‘tongue’s edge, high-strung, at edge of the cliff.’ That’s right. You understand there is no end to this man’s brilliance.”

Poet Tyehimba Jess shares equally effusive praise, writing in the book’s liner notes: “Quincy Troupe is a hoodoo soothsayer of poetry whose iconic riffs peal across each page as they peel back layers of America’s history. Reader—open this hefty Duende potion of Jazz and sweat with caution, ’cause the swagger of each line might just drown you to save your life,” he writes. 

Quincy Troupe thegrio.com
Margaret Troupe, Quincy Troupe, Brenda Greene and Lawrence Schiller attend the launch of the capital campaign to purchase the historic Mailer home in Provincetown hosted by the Norman Mailer Center and Van Cleef (Getty Images)

If there’s a theme that runs throughout Troupe’s work other than music, it’s a spirit of collaboration; a commitment that has remained consistent in the face of a world that often tells Black artists there can only be one at a time.

“I have always embraced continuing to work creatively in a collaborative way with other like-minded artists who value what the African, African American, and Caribbean cultural heritage and experience teaches us in our work, and especially on a performative level,” says Troupe, adding: “One of the greatest disappointments in my life was that Miles Davis died before he and I could collaborate on a project we had talked about doing together.”    

Despite the adulation, Troupe remains humble in his response, particularly when theGrio mentions his status as a living literary icon.

“I am happy and gratified that some of my contemporary peers have said they have been influenced by some of my writing,” he says. “But I am profoundly grateful that younger generations of visual artists, writers, poets, and musicians have said, in your words, that I am ‘revered as an icon’. Now, that is stunning to me and I am humbled to hear this…because I am a still-working artist!”

You can hear about Duende, Troupe’s storied career and more San Francisco Public Library’s Thursday event; register HERE.

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in the fashion and entertainment industries, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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