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Malik Ameer Crumpler: An African American in Paris

San Francisco native makes a splash in arts scene

Florence Ladd
Malik Ameer Crumpler: An African American in Paris
Malik Ameer Crumpler. COURTESY PHOTO

In just five years in Paris, Malik Ameer Crumpler has made a space and a name for himself in avant-garde arts and culture circles. His name alone attracts curiosity; and his lean 6’4” frame draws attention. But it is his upbeat energy, creative versatility, and gregarious nature that have given him access to a wide range of Paris organizations and institutions. Already known as a reliable networker and generous source of contacts, he is said to have found opportunities for countless artists and writers. I was introduced to Crumpler at a Paris café where a few artists and writers gathered for morning coffee. I noticed other conversations paused when he, in a mellow baritone, reeled off dates of events — poetry readings, book launches, jazz programs — they should not miss.

Crumpler describes himself as a writer, editor, rapper, musician, performance artist and teacher. Speaking with ease about his varied roles, he is convincing. How and where he had prepared for his range of titles and tasks led to a review of his personal history. “I was born, reared and educated in the San Francisco Bay Area,” the 40-year-old Crumpler says proudly, “in a large, supportive family of civil rights activists, artists, professionals and church people. They shaped my artistic tendencies and musical tastes and encouraged political activism.” Family-oriented years were followed by college years at San Francisco State University, where he frequently read at poetry programs and performed as a keyboard artist with a band. After graduation from SFSU in 2004 with a BFA in creative writing, he moved to Harlem, where he lived for a decade. Managing a university bookstore in Manhattan was his “day job.” By night, he played electronic music with a band, was editor-at-large of Opiate Magazine and published several books of poetry. He pursued an MFA at Long Island University, and he was a research assistant at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He was busy, but, he said, “I always showed up at demonstrations and mass protests in Manhattan, filming and performing for the Black Lives Matter movement.”   

In 2016, Crumpler left New York for Paris. He had been awarded a residency at Break Art Mix, a center in Paris that supports innovative art projects. There he wrote poems and gave readings of his works. At his first poetry reading, he met Anaïs Pourrouquet, a Parisian teacher, writer and visual artist. Prior to their marriage, they collaborated on a poetry-with-video project in Spain. They live in an apartment in the 20th arrondissement, where he enjoys cultivating his terrace garden.

Crumpler’s theatrical programs, readings and performances have been amply supported by grants and cultural institutions. He occasionally teaches writing courses. He is currently teaching at the recently established Digital College in La Defense. Sales of his publications (“Amber Hymns: Poems, Prayers and Raps,” “Little Everywhere” and “Beneath the Underground: Collected Raps 2000-2018”) are another source of income. He finds funding for the arts more “consistent and far easier” to obtain in Paris than in New York. He said, “There is a larger appreciative audience here for experimental arts — the kind of work I do. France supports artists. In New York, I couldn’t make a living doing gigs. Here I’ve been able to live without a day job.”

One of his collaborators said that Crumpler never stops working and that “you can rely on him to help you with any creative endeavor you might have.” A friend, Bruce Sherfield, added, “Malik has given the opportunity for a lot of us to get published. He hypes us all up. He knows he’s truly appreciated here.”

On arrival in Paris, Crumpler found he had to adjust to a new environment. “The most difficult part of adjusting was learning to calm down physically, psychologically and spiritually from the trauma of the hyper-anxiety, excessively violent American culture for Black men. Since moving here, I’ve had to happily transform my inner reality from that of the hunted into a simple citizen,” he says with disarming candor. “I am constantly in awe of the fact that, neurologically, the physical stress of always being on guard for murderous police and random gangs, thieves and public space shooters dissolved into an inner calm that has changed not only my body language and posture, but my creative eye as well.”

Despite the personal relief he has experienced, Crumpler responds to instances of police brutality and murder in Paris with performances at protest demonstrations and Black Lives Matter events. “All of my creative work is in support of civil liberty organizations, Black Lives Matter especially.” After a moment of reflection, he added, “Eventually, the blissful pink cloud of your Black life mattering (for the first time in your Black life) in Paris dissolves as you get to know Parisians of marginalized ethnicities here. They feel the same way about the police and other systemic injustices as we do in the States.” He has been told, he said, “You matter here because you are American, but I don’t, because I’m just a product of a colony.”

When he considers “the state of the States” he feels Black minds are still dimmed systematically by popular culture as “age-old stereotypes reign, which triggers everything in me that made me leave in the first place.”

He cautions, “Paris is not an easy place unless one moves here for school, a residency, job offer or love. The pace and intensity of Paris, like any metropolitan city, can overwhelm you quickly.” To remain steady and purposeful, Crumpler meditates. He enjoys the simple pleasures of Paris in long walks, exploring museums and galleries, and studying French history. As for advice to others about moving to Paris, Crumpler suggests visiting several times, finding a community of like-minded people and learning basic French.

Florence Ladd is a Cambridge-based author, former Harvard University professor and former dean at MIT and Wellesley College. The Banner has arranged for Ladd, who is presently in Paris on personal business, to provide stories for the Banner from time to time about the present Black emgirés, particularly those from the Boston area.