Duped by Troupe: A Failure of Imagination in La Jolla

Photo of Quincy Troupe at Feb. 6 The Loft reading taken from livestream.

When literature professors encouraged my classes to attend one of former UC San Diego professor Quincy Troupe’s four readings in San Diego this month, I never heard a reference to the scandal. The Facebook event for Troupe’s reading at The Loft only refers to him as a professor emeritus, not as someone who resigned in disgrace. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s coverage of Troupe’s visit has only a brief mention of the scandal, buried at the bottom of the article.

I wasn’t even aware of the scandal as I completed the laborious task of listening to Troupe’s rather dull poetry at D.G. Wills Books in downtown La Jolla on February 9. In Troupe’s selected readings for the bookstore, his poetic devices aspired to be surface-level. For example, his image of an unpopular political figure as a lizard was familiar to the point of being pedestrian. The one—and I do mean singular—intriguing aspect of Troupe’s reading was the attention given to the title of each collection he read. Errançities, published in 2012, is a fabricated word loosely based on a French term.

He invented the word for his title in the same way that he invented his degree from Grambling College.

Troupe’s eleven-year term as a professor in UCSD’s Literature department came to an end when it was revealed that he lied about earning a college degree. He hasn’t taught since he “retired” in 2002. The end of his teaching career coincided with his decision to step down as California State Poet Laureate, after his lie came to light. He’s dismissed the scandal as “silly,” “sensationalist,” and just “bad press.”

So why does La Jolla’s artistic community continue to revere someone of such dubious history and mediocrity?

Nostalgia is the easy answer. For more than a decade, Troupe was the organizer and director of Artists on the Cutting Edge, a Museum of Contemporary Art program which regularly brought diverse literary talent to San Diego. At the bookstore, I watched as the septuagenarian crowd nodded along as Troupe regaled the days of old. He told stories not of himself, but of artists more famous and easily more talented than himself. Toni Morrison and Miles Davis were just two of the names with which Troupe carpet bombed the minds of the far too easily impressed audience. The question-and-answer portion baited Troupe into telling stories he was already too eager to tell, inspiring in the audience “oohs” and “ahs” as he told the story of his first meeting with Miles Davis.

The deification of Troupe is indicative of an even deeper problem in our local community’s relationship with art. Settling for Quincy Troupe as a representative of the best art that La Jolla can access is a failure of imagination.

More than a failure of imagination, stagnation is an act of disrespect toward so many emerging artists whose works are infinitely more intricate than Troupe’s. UCSD hosts the New Writing Series, a free event for emerging artists that is open to the public. The intoxicating empathy and technique of artists like Vanessa Angélica Villareal are routinely displayed on our own campus, yet command a fraction of the attention drawn by someone who happened to know Miles Davis. Villareal’s explorations of the “trauma of assimilation” are highly relevant to a young, diverse student population in the age of the government shutting down over a border wall. Supremely timely work is offered, but unappreciated. Fantastic art is showcased right under our noses, yet we smell nothing but the gasbagging of the uninspired.

It’s not enough that we make a conscious effort to support new artists. We also have to engage with an honest, critical assessment of how and with whom we interact as an audience. The admiration of Quincy Troupe dishonestly ignores his record as an unremorseful falsifier. The problem isn’t that Quincy Troupe never earned a college degree; the problems are that Quincy Troupe lied about never earning a college degree, and his work doesn’t even begin to make up for it. In order for UCSD and La Jolla to successfully engage in an open and honest appreciation of art, the community must be able to confront criticism of its figures.

Patrick Alexander is an Assistant Opinion Editor for The Triton.

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