Art Works Blog

Art Talk with Quincy Troupe

Washington, DC

Quincy Troupe. Photo by Jerry Jack.

Award-winning author Quincy Troupe has written nearly two dozen books of poetry and non-fiction, including Miles: An Autobiography and Snake-Back Solos, both of which received an American Book Award. He has also received a Peabody Award for the radio series The Miles Davis Radio Project. Among many projects, Troupe also edits Black Renaissance Noire, a literary journal published by New York University. We spoke with Troupe by e-mail about the writing life and about his poem "Woke Up Crying the Blues," written after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

NEA: What's your version of the writer's life?

QUINCY TROUPE: I don't have a version of the "writers life," except to try and write each and every day I can. The only rituals I have is that I get up early in the morning, around 5 or 6 am, do a little house work to get my mind working, read a little and then start writing. That's about it.
NEA: What are you working on now?

TROUPE:  I just finished my new book of poems, Erran├žities, which will be published at the end of this year by Coffee House Press, in both hardcover and paper editions. The book is about 180 pages and covers the years from 2006 until 2011. I have also finished a book of non-fiction prose---essays on poetry, music, culture, articles, columns and interviews various people have conducted with me: that book will be published sometime in 2012, also by Coffee House Press. That same year---February 2012---Hyperion-Disney will publish my picture book for children titled Hallelujah, based on the life of the late, great singer, Ray Charles: drawings in the book are by Darryl Pinckney. I also wrote the screenplay for a film on Miles Davis, based on my memoir Miles and Me. The movie is supposed to be in theaters by the end of this year. Also, I am trying to finish a novel---The Legacy of Charlie Footman---and my autobiography---The Accordion Years---by the end of this year.

NEA: What are you reading now?

TROUPE:  I am reading books of poetry now, this latest being Derek Walcott's White Egrets, because I don't have a lot of free time right through here and poetry is shorter and I can read a book in a short period of time: it's not the same with novels or any of the longer prose forms.

NEA: Your poem “Woke Up Crying the Blues,” written in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., opens: "Woke up crying the blues:/bore witness to the sadness of the day;/the peaceful man from Atlanta/was slaughtered yester/day...." How did you write your way into such a monumental event?

TROUPE: I wrote "Woke Up Crying the Blues" as an account of what I did on that very sad day. Everything I wrote in that poem happened. I didn't start out to write the poem as it eventually turned out because I hardly ever write poems like this one. But this one evolved very differently from any other poem that I have written. It's very interesting that it ended up in the way it did.
NEA: In the light of such catastrophic events, what is it that you think poetry can do? Why do you think people seem to turn to poetry at times of crisis?

TROUPE:  Poetry can be a very spiritual endeavor, at least it is for me, and for me "Woke Up  Crying the Blues" is a spiritual attempt---making love to a woman, the idea of losing possibly a "future child in the sand".... seeing "angels leading the lamb to heaven"---to come to grips with a "catastrophic" event. I think people turn to poetry in "times of crisis" because many perhaps think the language of prose fails to lift them up beyond the mundane.

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