When you think of La Jolla, racial diversity isn't the first thing that springs to mind. So when the Museum of Contemporary Art's Hugh Davies gave African American poet Quincy Troupe full creative freedom for a poetry-literature-music series, it was a bold move. Despite recent controversy (he resigned as California's poet laureate after it was discovered he lied on his application), Troupe asserts that this year's final edition of Artists on the Cutting Edge was exactly what he planned.
Why did you decide to make this year the final Artists on the Cutting Edge?
I'm retiring/resigning June 30, which was my original date to retire before I was made poet laureate. I told 'em that I would do seven or 11 years, and this is my 11th. I decided that you can't do something forever. You win at the game of dice at either seven or 11. You lose at 13, you lose at one or two. I believe in that stuff.
Was everyone confident that you could succeed from the start?
When I first wanted to do it, everybody counseled me not to because this was a beach town and nobody would come. I told them, “Time will tell-check back with me in a couple years.” And by that time it was packed.
Do you think you've broken some artistic ground in San Diego?
We brought Nobel laureates, we brought Pulitzer Prize winners. We brought Toni Morrison before she won the Nobel Prize and we brought Derek Walcott before he won the Nobel Prize. We brought Terry McMillan just as her book Waiting to Exhale was coming out, and that book has become part of the American lexicon now. I don't believe in being ahead of our time. I believe in being on time.
Was there ever a consideration of race when choosing artists and writers?
I was not thinking about black musicians or white writers, or whatever. I wanted every evening to reflect the composition of the United States and the world-the people who live in it, who breathe in it, and the artists who play music and write everyday in it. If you read the New York Times or even the L.A. Times, you'd tend to think that there are not many African American or Asian or Latino or Native American writers who are first-rate. You would think that they were all white guys or white women. You had a great feminist movement in this country, and that movement also put a lot of enlightened African American and Asian and Latino and Native American women in place who care about Toni Morrison and all these people. White males, on the other hand, have not had a movement that has humanized them and enlightened them in a way to where they realize we [African American males] are their brothers too. So when they pick somebody, they pick somebody like them. They're afraid of us. They're starting to deal with it in the army and in the corporate world in some instances, but in the art world-in the literature world-they just don't deal with it. The whole literary world is as racist-especially towards African American males-as the KKK. That's why I say that the decision that Hugh Davies made was a significant decision, not just in terms of this region, but in the history of this country. I have to celebrate him.
How do you view San Diego in terms of art and culture?
I think we're a little bit behind. We have to understand that art brings a lot to a community. We're about 15 years off. The television stations don't do anything about culture. And the Union-Tribune is sorry. Music and literature and painting... If you're talking about moving businesses here-I think people like Irwin Jacobs of Qualcomm understand that. You just can't bring 'em here to go to Legoland, Sea World or the zoo. You got to have a great infrastructure of culture so that employees want to come here.
How do you feel now about the poet laureate scandal?
I don't like to talk about it. I'm going to write my own version someday and that's when you'll know how I feel. All the poets supported me. They all thought it was silly. I had three or four hundred thousand dollars pledged-free money-that was going to go to poets and writers and schools and prisons across the state. So it's California's loss in that way. It's something that happened. It was very intense. It was too bad because I think some of the coverage was erroneous. The Union-Tribune published some stuff that absolutely was not true; they were just being sensationalists. But my wife put it all into perspective when she said, “I've been with you 26 years, Quincy, and this was the first bad press you got.”
Troupe's wife Margaret has already closed the Porter-Troupe Gallery, her art business in Hillcrest. In June, Troupe will retire as poetry professor at UCSD and the two will move back to New York City. Though he'll no longer teach, Troupe will be busier in “retirement” than ever before. He just signed a deal with Beacon to make a full-length feature film based on Miles and Me, his biography of Miles Davis. Ideally, he'd love to have Don Cheadle play the role of Miles Davis and Jeffrey Wright to play himself. “Or Samuel Jackson and Laurence Fishburn,” he says, noting that the film will debut at Cannes in 2004. He's also working on a novel entitled The Legacy of Charlie Footman, a book on soul legend Stevie Wonder and his memoir.
SCHEDULE FOR ARTISTS ON THE CUTTING EDGE
April 3 James Luna, Kartik Seshadri and Robert Pinsky
April 10 Jeffrey Reynard Allen, Greg Osby and Jane Hirschfield
April 17 Nora Okja Keller, Gary Snyder and Mississippi Charles Bevel
April 24 Vinx, Diana Garcia and Robert Stone
May 1 Elizabeth Alexander, Michael Ondaatje and Bill Saxton