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Stanley Crouch

An outspoken writer and critic, Stanley Crouch was born in Los Angeles, California, on December 14, 1945. Encouraged by his mother, Crouch began writing at the age of eight. Crouch became active in the Civil Rights Movement while in junior high school. After graduating from high school, he attended two junior colleges in the Los Angeles area. While studying at the East Los Angeles Junior College, Crouch worked for a poverty program in East Los Angeles, teaching a literacy class. In August 1965, Crouch witnessed the Watts Riot firsthand. This experience radicalized Crouch and he became a black nationalist.

From 1965-1967, Crouch was an actor-playwright in the Studio Watts Company. While at the Studio Watts Company, Crouch discovered the writings of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray who became major influences in Crouch's thinking. This influence caused him to turn away from the black nationalist movement, finding it too reactionary. Crouch taught at the Claremont Colleges in California from 1968-1975 and moved to New York in 1975. For his first five years in New York, Crouch played the drums in an avant-garde jazz band, later becoming a staff writer for the Village Voice (1979-88). It was during this time that Crouch started to find his voice as a writer. Then, in the 1980s, he became the spokesperson for popular jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Crouch has written articles for the New York Daily News and articles for magazines such as The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Esquire. He is the author of three collections of essays, Notes of a Hanging Judge (1990), The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and Short of It, 1990-1994 (1995), and Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997 (1998) and one novel, Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing (2000).

Accession Number

A2001.020

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/21/2001 |and| 3/3/2002

Last Name

Crouch

Maker Category
Organizations
Search Occupation Category
First Name

Stanley

Birth City, State, Country

Los Angeles

HM ID

CRO01

Favorite Season

Winter

State

California

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

I'm doing the best I can.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/14/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Newspaper columnist, music critic, and magazine columnist Stanley Crouch (1945 - ) worked as both a playwright and jazz drummer. Crouch published articles in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Esquire, and he wrote numerous books of essays, including, "Notes of a Hanging Judge," as well as a novel titled, "Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing."

Employment

Studio Watts Company

Claremont Colleges

Village Voice

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Stanley Crouch interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch identifies one favorite thing

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch discusses his parents' background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch shares stories about his mother's childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch talks about his siblings and his father's family

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Stanley Crouch shares early memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Stanley Crouch recalls life in a multicultural elementary school

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Stanley Crouch discusses his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch reflects on his childhood household

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch talks about his childhood environment

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch explains his inclination toward introspection

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch discusses many of the community forces that helped to shape him

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch talks about his start as a writer

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Stanley Crouch reflects on his community and its treatment of women

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch reflects on his early interest in girls

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch talks about the improved occupational choices for women

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch discusses gender perceptions

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch talks about the racial composition of his junior high school and high school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch discusses gender differences and the natural order

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Stanley Crouch talks about the activities in which he and his friends were involved

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Stanley Crouch discusses aggression and defense

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch explains how his mother and grandmother encouraged critical self-awareness

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch discusses the loss of importance in achieving high quality performance in the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch describes cultural influences and frictions in inner city Los Angeles

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch recalls the frenzy of the 1965 Watts riot

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch describes working with illiterate adults

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch discusses cultural differences and various related issues

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch identifies lasting memories of the Watts riot

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch offers his assesment and critique of black nationalism

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch continues his critique of black nationalism

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch explains the lost friendship of LeRoi Jones

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch critiques several black writers and academicians

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch talks about his various professional endeavors

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch comments on critiques of his views

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Stanley Crouch talks about writing and being prolific

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Second slating for the Stanley Crouch interview

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch discusses his first famous poem, 'A Song for Asoka'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch talks about his plays

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch identifies various events that had influenced him

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch recalls how Amos Moore's poetry influenced him

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Stanley Crouch comes to his own understanding of black nationalism

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch's disenchantment with black nationalism

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch discusses his disaffection with black nationalism

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch explains why he rejects 'fake' African identity in black Americans

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch explains his fear ofgaining tenure

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch discusses his rejection of a tenure-track teaching post

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch describes moving to pursue a career as a critic

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch shares his insight about and friendship with Ralph Ellison

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch views Ralph Ellison as a tragic figure

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch details his development as a critic

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch reflects on his tenure at the 'Village Voice'

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch discusses his book, 'Notes of a Hanging Judge'

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch talks about the shift from black to African American

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch offers some controversial theories on African vs. black American achievement

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch discusses one of his essays, 'All American Skin Game'

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch talks about human rights and objects to clitoridectomies

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch describes his experience at the 'Village Voice'

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch talks about his departure from the 'Village Voice'

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch talks about the period in which he published essays

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch talks about his novel

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch comments on reactions to his novel

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch continues discussing his novel, 'Don't the Moon Look Lonesome'

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch shares his wife's views of his novel, 'Don't the Moon Look Lonesome'

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch talks about criticisms of his novel, 'Don't the Moon Look Lonesome'

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch talks about his aspirations as a writer

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Stanley Crouch discusses his views on affirmative action

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Stanley Crouch wants the black community to shed its decadent ways

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Stanley Crouch speculates on how he would lead the country

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Stanley Crouch comments on black political leadership

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Stanley Crouch hopes for a renaissance in black America

Tape: 13 Story: 4 - Stanley Crouch examines perceptions of himself by intellectuals and workaday people

DASession

2$2

DATape

9$10

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Stanley Crouch reflects on his tenure at the 'Village Voice'
Stanley Crouch discusses his book, 'Notes of a Hanging Judge'
Transcript
What things were significant besides you getting--did you get fired from the 'Village Voice'?$$Oh, you mean for that fight with Harry Allen? Definitely.$$Okay.$$Definitely.$$What things besides that incident? What things were forming you as a person?$$Well, I was getting a lot of.$$That you consider significant.$$Well, for one thing when I was working at the Voice when I was edited by Robert Christgau, by Ellen Willis, by this women M. Mark because she hates her first name Marcia so she goes with M. Mark and is referred to as 'M'."Hi, this is M."--and Karen Durbin, those are four of the best editors in New York City, and they were four of the best that I've ever had. In fact, I've had no editors better than the four of them, and so I think writing pieces that were edited by those four people had a very big impact on my development as a writer because they made me aware of a number of things and things to look out for and stuff like that. I think that had a very--I think they helped me develop. You know, they helped me go my way most effectively so under no circumstances would I ever have traded that experience that I got from being edited by them or working at the 'Voice' where I had such a freedom to write about so many different things because you know departments are so closed off in most publications. You can't write a theater review sometimes, then write about a painter like I did about Bob Thompson. Another time I would write about a review of some jazz band or an article about a jazz musician, then go out and write something about, you know, Jesse Jackson or Louis Farrakhan or whomever it is so I had a very great freedom, and I was able to do a lot of things so I thought that was very--that was a great experience.$$Now when did you start or felt that you had really started developing an audience? Was it almost immediately or was it?$$An audience? I have to tell you I never ever thought about that during that period because it was hard to tell. You know what I mean? See, with newspapers, unless people write in, you don't really know what's going on. All you know is that the newspaper goes out. People buy it. They read it, and then they line there catboxes with it, birdcages, you know, and some homeless people use it for other things, but so you don't really know unless people write you a lot of mail and stuff, and I wasn't getting a lot of mail during that time at the 'Voice'. Every now and then there would be some controversy over something that I wrote, but that didn't really let me know what kind of an audience I had. I didn't begin to understand that until much later in terms of the size of any kind of an audience, and I don't really--at this point I don't think I have any large audience. I mean I had--I'm well-known in New York City because of writing for the 'Daily News' now which I've been doing for the last four or five years, but as far as if I put a book out, people say oh, they got to get that book, I don't think that's true yet, and I don't know that it'll ever be true, I mean because who knows? I don't know.$$In this whole process with the 'Village Voice' you were becoming a man about town sort of because you were writing critiques. You were going around.$$Right. I came to know a lot of people, yeah, and I started--the thing is with New York that you get taken down different paths, and you get invited to this, and somebody writes you a letter. You get this award for that or something or whatever it is, and eventually you come to know these other people. Oh, yes, yes, I've read you, very good, very good, whatever it is, but you see, the big breakthrough was the collection. When 'Notes of a Hanging Judge' came out, that was it, but see, as I point out in the introduction in 'Notes of a Hanging Judge', by virtue of being at the 'Village Voice' at the time that I was there I got a chance to see the brain trust of the feminist movement come forward, and I got to see the homosexual movement emerge. And I got to see how those things had been very badly influenced by the Black Nationalists' kind of separatist attitudes that came out of that which destroyed the 'Village Voice' and created a kind of what they came to call identity politics which I call like a politics of narcissism now. So it was interesting watching these women and these homosexuals go through the same thing in which they were women are better than men, homosexuals. You know there was a thing where a homosexual--I don't even know if he's still alive-- said that it's no longer about gays and straights. He said it's about gay men and women against straight men, he thought at that time.$How did that even come about as the title?$$The title? Oh, well, the title was--it's interesting that you ask that because it was an allusion to [James] Baldwin's book of essays, 'Notes of a Native Son', because you had native son book--I mean Richard Wright, and you had Baldwin's book, 'Notes of a Native Son', and to this day you're the first person who ever asked. Almost 15 years later you're the first person that says what about the title? The title was an allusion on the one hand to Henry Morgan, you know Henry Morgan and about the fact that when he--you know, Henry Morgan was a pirate. And then he became a judge, and when he became a judge in England, he sent a number of these guys that he used to hang out with, his fellow pirates, to the gallows so I was just announcing in the book, in the introduction, that though I may well have been one of you guys in the '60s [1960s] a number of you need to be marched to the gallows, intellectually speaking. So that was part of what was going to happen and also that there was going to be no mercy in this book, that it was not going to be--I wasn't going to come with something like but the brother's trying. Well, he means well or so and so put black people to work. I mean none of those things were good enough for me. Now I have been accused of being an elitist, but then I don't know anyone who's not elitist. That is to say I've never discovered among any people that I've ever met an absolute lack of a hierarchy of what they like. If they're going to eat some fast food, they have a place that they think sells better fast food than something else. If they're buying whatever clothes they're buying, they have an idea what clothes look better than other clothes, and anybody given his or her choice is going to get the best version of what it is that they like, which includes, I'm sure, even people who are into sadomasochism. I'm sure that when they decide to get an ass whipping, they go to the person who gives the best ass whipping. Right? I'm sure of that so I've never met anybody--people say well, you're an elitist. I say well, okay, you dislike, but what do you like? I like baseball. Well, do you think everybody on the team plays equally well? Of course not. That's absurd. Well, who are your favorite players? They never list the sad ones. You know the person who's not an elitist and likes sports? They never--their favorite players are never the ones who mess up all the time who stand on the bench. I've never seen some people say well, that brother sure can sit on the bench, can't he? Yeah, I like the way he turns to the left and right. Looks good in the warmup jacket, don't he? I've never seen anybody say that so I just think that that's all a big fraud when people talk about you're an elitist and I'm not.$$Now back to 'Notes of a Hanging Judge', why did you--was there a lot of thought about the order and?$$Oh, definitely.$$Content? So why did you start with Jesse Jackson?$$I started with Jesse Jackson because the book came out in 1990, and he had run [for President] in 1988, and I thought that a number of the themes that were going to come up in the book were connected to him, and I wanted to use that opening essay as a big overture, and that's why the last essay is out of sequence to 'Body and Soul'. It's not the last essay that was written that's in the book. It was written actually earlier than some of the ones that precede it, but I wanted to end it there because at that point I was able to bring together the things about Afro-American history, about jazz, about black religious music, about the relationship between jazz and Renaissance painting and the art of the Renaissance, and so I thought that a number of the themes that had come up through the book that included, you know, things like black identity about music, about painting, about history, about the South, you know, etcetera, that a number of those things that that would conclude the book well.$$And how long did it take for you to put the book together? I mean the things were already written, but how long did it?$$It didn't take that long. I don't remember how long but not that long. Once I knew what I wanted to do, I figured out the sequence because you always want a book to read well from start to finish. Now as it turns out, most people who buy books of essays do not read them from start to finish unless they're reviewers, but that book was a very--that was a very explosive book. That had a very big impact. That was a very influential book because a lot of writers, I've been told--have told me since then that when they read that book, they decided well, hey, he can do that. I can get up and tell people what I actually think, too, because a lot of people were just lying and faking and frauding in the sense that there were things that they really were disturbed by that they didn't like, and they looked at that book as an announcement of the fact that there was another--we were now past the period where we had to just, you know, see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil among us, but also you know--I mean there's plenty of stuff in there about racism and other things where the other people get their drubbings, too. I always wanted to be like an equal opportunity paddler.$$Is there one essay there that is your favorite?$$Maybe 'Body and Soul'. Maybe the last one just in terms of the structure of the essay because of the way it's organized and the way that the themes are developed and the relationship between the past and the present and all of that and personal memories overlaid by reporting and by things about Roman history and all that since it's set in Italy during the jazz festival in the summer in the late '80s [1980s]$$Were you aware that it was a significant body of work when you came out with it? Were you aware immediately?$$Well, I don't know that you.$$You said a lot of writers afterwards said that it gave them permission, but it was also--et's look at the time. It's 1990.$$'90 [1990], right.$$Who was in office back then? Are we--was Reagan in office? Reagan.$$Yeah, I think. Wait a minute. Was he still in office then in '90 [1990]? No, he was gone.$$He was gone? It was [George H. W.] Bush.$$He was gone.$$Okay, he was gone.$$Yeah.