Readings take place in bookstores, bars, even laundromats, yet an old-fashioned home salon is a rare and special thing nowadays. In Harlem, especially, the living-room salon evokes a storied past of the 1920s Renaissance soirées of writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. When you step into the grand, rambling Graham Court apartment of poet Quincy Troupe and his wife, writer Margaret Porter Troupe, you are immediately transported to a vibrant, sun-drenched world of creativity. One room has been turned into a gallery of contemporary artwork inspired largely by the African diaspora (together the Troupes edit the NYU journal Black Renaissance Noire); a large sitting room, where a makeshift table/bar has been set up, is crowded floor to ceiling with books; while the living room, with rearranged sofas and twenty or so folding chairs, has been transformed into an intimate space for the day’s honored guest and audience. And all around, there are sweeping views across the Harlem rooftops and off into the hazy distance.
On a recent Sunday, the great Trinidadian author Earl Lovelace was in town to be feted at the Troupe’s Harlem Arts Salon. The house was packed and festive, and the wine was flowing. I remember first discovering Lovelace in the late eighties—and I still have my worn copies of The Wine of Astonishment and A Brief Conversion and Other Stories to prove it. These books were wonders in themselves: sleek, colorful paperbacks published by the beloved imprints Aventura’s Vintage Library of World Literature and the Heinemann Caribbean Writers series. Yes, Lovelace—his name, too, had its own special ring—evoked a whole world, a vision of Trinidad and the Caribbean that was bursting with life, with its own rhythm of dreams and vexed sorrows, its calypsonian sages and steel-pan virtuosos, its gurus and Garveyites and badjohns, or street-corner rebels. Lovelace was a revelation (as was his compatriot Sam Selvon, whose short story “My Girl and the City” still sends thrills through me), and over the years, I suppose, I’ve missed him without even realizing it. Read More