THE TROUPE LIGHT: A Renaissance Couple, by Paul r Harding
I don’t remember walking from the subway. The heat kept following me like a heartless pickpocket who wanted to get right up on me without me detecting its fast white-hot hands. No, I don’t remember the corner turned or street crossed in Harlem, but I remember soon rising up. Like Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven, played in good tone. My body a finger pressed on a tray of bread pudding testing the texture of its rising. I was just pulled out of a hot oven Harlem. Ascending in a film noir narrow gated elevator to the 7th floor, I arrived at a door opened upon the home of two human lights. Quincy Troupe and Margaret Porter Troupe.
Theirs is close to gleam between red and black in mahogany. A glow they hold, balance, and adlib from as a sensitive, detailed artist’s brush does with light to make color. The light being anything but primary (predictable or tame) drifting way before and beyond Harlem. I was lucky to have more than a moment up close in Quincy and Margaret’s illumination.
I don’t remember sitting, for you don’t sit on a beam. The beam surrounds you as you slowly sink in, about it. Oh, get comfortable easily but anything but relaxed because a soul snatching work (among others) by an Ethiopian artist named Alexander Skunder Boghossian keeps you attuned to spirit in art. Hospitality in spirit of their art. And the painting below his - the Haitian painter, Edouard Duval Carrié said there is nothing ordinary about their home, its juju light.
Nothing surreal as for the sake of out-to-lunch yet another painting by the hand of Jac Gabriel of Haiti said otherwise. Something new yet wise like the demeanor of Margaret and Quincy. The moving work of Al Loving hanging over the stereo, and the green and silver painting hanging to the left next to it by Peter Bradley a few feet held me as the good soil did the healthy plant beside me. So, from the master poet of the Troupe light, I am introduced to his father - a baseball catcher in Cuba who the Cleveland Indians wished to sign up. The passing through Miles Davis and Chuck Berry in St. Louis and the dangers of thugs and the core of The Blues came to/from that infamous river town. “Twenty years too soon for the always all-white Major League Baseball” despite another 20 years later the call of a matchless poet came out of the son, the basketball player. The son who was already in love with books. A reader from the jump! Meanwhile, a young African American sister, minding her own Mississippi business attended Alcorn State University.
Like two stars in different time zones yet the same (Monk’s “Round Midnight”) outer space neither soul had any idea that the other existed. No clue that somewhere between the Porter’s building a church and a school on a nearly 300-acre farm in the middle of Jim Crow damnation, and a kill or be killed bard escaping St Louis for Grambling University in Louisiana, would hook each other’s starlight. Before one of these two lights blinked, in an unmeasurable way, a good 1500 miles away the bard would be in the mix of the musings of the Watts Writers Workshop, and almost three decades at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center while Margaret would be destined to NYC via Iona College and The New York Times advertising department. An activist heavily involved in the Class Action suit for equal pay at The New York Times, 1973, about the time the humanities, art, and music were removed as required classes in public school curriculum. Soon, somewhere between College of Staten Island and Iona these two special lights would meet at a poetry reading event.
Margaret made me forget the thick humidity outside their art tailored residence, introducing me to the legacy of a Mississippi Civil War hero, Captain named Captain Arthur Willis Gloster, whose mind would have been blown away like tall cotton, had he seen the birth of an annual Arts Project in the Mississippi town of his namesake come to being almost a decade ago. Margaret is the Executive Director of The Gloster Arts Project. Thinking on what we owe our youth and how what they serve our youth makes me think/recall what Quincy made me reflect on: the heat of Power to the People era. His forthcoming book of poetry (his 12th), entitled Duende Poems: 1966–Now; its dedication and the impact of Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sterling Brown, and the Madagascan poet, Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, on his creative trek.
Closer and closer, St Louis and Gloster come together. Quincy shares an episode of teaching children in Gloster, Mississippi, how to write a Haiku. Margaret speaks on our rich Black history and how “we are not going anywhere!” No, the truth in living, breathing Black beings ain’t going nowhere. Ultimately, whether a chorus line is a pole dancing team or whether the oppressors are ever going to grow up and cop to the fact that Blackness is the best thing that ever happened to them, still Murdock, Fox, and all the mass media profiteers “will have to be held accountable” Yes, closer, and closer, Quincy broke down how he had to summon all his inner strength to not become violent in more than one situation between these different regions of racism and cultural injustice. Where this master poet roots sprout from there is no time for softness. No confusion between indecision and the reality of an environment reminding us of who we are every day. To that oppressor, other than labor and entertainment, prison, rape, war, we are a hated yet deeply envied people
Almost a decade now, every summer they are one source of each other’s lights for about 40 young kids, grades 1-12. To quote Quincy: “flesh fusion of all centuries” because this husband and wife do what the giant angel couples like Trane and Alice, Max and Abbey, and Ossie and Ruby, did: make a major part of their lives together about teaching culture and inspiring the beauty in our youth. The Gloster Arts Project is about sucking the poison out of self-hatred. About the Africa in the stock of a daughter named Margaret out of 15 siblings who grew up on a near 300-acre farm where they grew everything, they and their community consumed! Where the Porter parents built a church and a school on their land. I wondered with delight where did this sister get the faith and/or imagination to think, see, dream beyond that farm? Where/how did this brother find in his love for reading since childhood the Duke Ellington type harmonics of voice on paper he would make as a poet? Through the antebellum heat of Jim Crow and the Blues of The Music, they both understood that our children/youth are woefully under-exposed while having the most potent intellectual capacity… or we’d have no Paul Laurence Dunbar. No Zora Neale Hurston. No Gwen Brooks. No Charles Burnett. For it takes the executive direction of a sister from Mississippi and the masterful poetry of a brother from a Mississippi river town to make a ping pong out of the moon, saxophone miracles fly across, “…spoiled but frightening - too many weapons - desensitized enough to use- terrifyingly violent - what will the people in power do?” Margaret asked the ancestors between the painting frames.
Whatever, wherever, however, the answer(s) bestow us… for we are fighting the same battles no matter the place - the same war. Commerce versus art. Injustice versus compassion. We are most likely to find out (inside) what it is in the air in these times, in these deeds and un-deeds, of hostility in endless war and extortion, what it means - but have no word for yet. I have only endless hope in showing our youth truth of their timeless beauty through critical thinking, reading, and writing. Three chosen poems Quincy was kind enough to read as I did my 1st person “blindfold test,” asking him to speak to the “seed” and/or origin of a few poems. The brilliant “Flight” and “For Malcolm, Who Walks In the Eyes of Our Children” from his classic collection Avalanche and “High Noon Shadow” from the sleek (like Miles Davis’ ESP) collection called Seduction, the poem “High Noon Shadow” from his juju keen observations from a Harlem street “winds of our words/beauty you stand for.” He explained one poem was conceived as an observer (like a gifted painter) and the poem for Malcolm dedicated to his children. Those children, their lights, shared in family photos, showed the quality of stock they preserve in faraway places and inside the soul at the same time - regions where spirits of renaissance brothers and sisters dwell. The likes of Ida B. Wells and Paul Robeson loan their light to the souls of Margaret and Quincy interest -free forever.
I don’t remember much but what was/is centered in their special, good tone. An exclusive mahogany rhythm in subdued light where the African sculpture guarded the table where we broke bread in brunch, in the spirit of the “good born and fostered,” the heavenly simple but anything but infantile light that “fights the good fight” is all the proof of God I need - when such light, in such love, comes in the form of leadership of two lights in one. Margaret Porter Troupe and Quincy Troupe.
About Paul r Harding
Published works: Hot Mustard & Lay Me Down (En Theos Press, 2003); Excerpts of Lamentation & Evidence of Starlite (Aurius Unlimited, 1993); a short story in Black Renaissance Noire; excerpt of a completed novel manuscript in Black Renaissance Noire; selected verse in Black Renaissance Noire, Transition 112, Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, Konch, Coon Bidness, Berkeley Poetry Review, Earshot Jazz, Raven Chronicles, and various anthologies. Unpublished manuscripts in both the Gwendolyn Brooks Papers at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, and the Derek Walcott Collection at the Alma Jordan Library, University of West Indies. Awarded Philip Whalen Memorial Grant for poetry and Edith K. Draham Scholarship for fiction. ‘Spoken Music’ performed with legendary Charles Gayle, Ravi Coltrane, Joe Ford, Michael Bisio, and other renowned musicians. Former Earshot Jazz Board of Directors President, former Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle Education Director, and founder of ULMS Children’s University. Currently teaches critical thinking, reading, and writing in the Bronx. Presently completing a manuscript of short poems and researching first non-fiction project: Race and Heroism in Hollywood: Die Like a Man.
MARGARET PORTER TROUPE BIO
Margaret Porter Troupe has achieved distinction as an arts organizer, producer of cultural events, and community activist in a career that spans more than 30 years in New York City and in San Diego, California. She was a founding member of New Bones, a coalition of women poets who produced literary events in New York City, the owner of Porter Troupe Gallery in San Diego, which was called “one of the best galleries” in California because of its outstanding roster of contemporary artists and as a forum for poets, writers, and musicians to read and perform. She founded and was director of VeVe: Visual Environments for Visual Education an after-school program that promoted Cultural Agility among youth, and upon her return to New York City, she was the executive director of Harlem Textile Works, a community-based nonprofit arts education program and social enterprise that trained youth in silkscreen printing and graphic design. At the same time Troupe opened the Harlem Arts Salon, a place for prominent writers (Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ishmael Reed, John Edgar Wideman), musicians including Ron Carter and Hugh Masekela, and visual artists to meet and engage their audiences in a setting that recalls the historic salons of the Harlem Renaissance. For the past eight years, she has brought arts education and enrichment to youth in rural Gloster, Mississippi, at The Gloster Arts Project. with a free arts camp where kids ages 6 -18 years old (grades 1-12) are introduced to their own creativity through intensive workshops in poetry, music, dance, theater, and visual arts taught by distinguished professional artists and mentors like Will Calhoun, Danny Glover, Delroy Lindo, Terry McMillan, and Cassandra Wilson. As a writer, Ms. Troupe has published articles on the arts in magazines and journals including The Green Magazine, Code, Black Renaissance Noire, and ezines Konch, Tribes, among others. She was the arts and copy editor for NYU’s Black Renaissance Noire, edited by her husband, Quincy Troupe. Born and raised in Gloster, Mississippi, Margaret Porter Troupe graduated from Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
QUINCY TROUPE BIO
Quincy Troupe is the author of 20 books, including 10 volumes of poetry and three children’s books. His writings have been translated into over 30 languages. He is co-author with Miles Davis of Miles: the Autobiography; Earl the Pearl with Earl Monroe, and the author of Miles and Me: A Memoir of Miles Davis (2000), a chronicle of his friendship with Miles Davis, re-published by Seven Stories Press, September 2018. In addition, a major motion picture based on Miles and Me, for which Mr. Troupe wrote the screenplay, is currently scheduled to go into production mid -2021.
His other notable works include The Pursuit of Happyness with Chris Gardner, editor of James Baldwin: The Legacy, and co-editor (with Rainer Schulte) of Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Literature. Troupe’s latest books of poems are Seduction and a book-length poem, Ghost Voices, both from TriQuartley Northwestern University Press 2018. He is also writing a novel, The Legacy of Charlie Footman; a memoir, The Accordion Years; and an untitled book of non-fiction prose.
Among his many distinguished achievements are: the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, the Milt Kessler Poetry Award, three American Book Awards, the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, a 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from Furious Flower, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Award, January 25, 2018, in Detroit Michigan.
Quincy Troupe is Professor Emeritus from the University of California, San Diego. He edits Black Renaissance Noire, a literary and culture journal published by the Institute of African American Affairs at New York University. He lives in Harlem (New York) with his wife, Margaret Porter Troupe.