“In Paris, she walked out onto the stage, opened her mouth and spoke. At the first utterance I heard that rare something that said this is special and knew immediately that Aja Monet was one of the Ones who will mark the sound of the ages. She brings depth of voice to the voiceless, and through her we sing a powerful song.” —Carrie Mae Weems
“Monet is armed with extraordinary authenticity and a passion for storytelling.” —The Rogovoy Report
“If Aja Monet could ask that everyone come away from hearing her with one thing, it would be their soul; that they might learn to love it, to carry it, and the importance of nurturing it.” —Verbs on Asphalt
A voice of truth and gentle strength, Harry Belafonte has called Aja Monet “The true definition of an artist.” Of Cuban-Jamaican descent, Aja Monet is an internationally established poet, performance poet, singer, songwriter, educator, and human rights advocate. Her craft is an in-depth reflection of emotional wisdom, skill, and activism. In both Aja Monet’s poetry and songs, she poses questions about the power of the imagination and metaphor in how we engage with local and global issues. As a Teaching Artist for Urban Word NYC as well as Urban Arts Partnership in NYC, she uses poetry as a therapeutic tool with at-risk inner city kids, showing how words can empower and encourage holistic healing in youth education. She teaches her students to harness meaning in the world and to transform the world by transforming selves. In an interview, Monet speaks to her passion for education: “Education gave me perspective on my circumstances and it fueled my imagination by providing me with teachers that made the difference where my parenting may have failed. Education was the village that raised me. I care about it because I recognize the difference it makes in my life and the impact it has on fine-tuning my vision.”
In 2014, she was awarded the YWCA of the City of New York’s “One to Watch Award”—an award established in honor of Monet’s work to honor women under the age of 30 who exemplify the mission of the organization: to empower women and eliminate racism. Aja Monet volunteers with Justice League NYC, a coalition working on juvenile justice to end police violence both in New York City and nationally. In one of her many speaking appearances, she addressed the Cook County Commissioners of Illinois, performed for elected officials, and visited numerous youth institutions, developing voices as an alternative to violence. In 2015, she traveled to Palestine on a solidarity trip with the Dream Defenders where US activists from across the nation met with Palestinian activists and artists to share, create, and learn.
The youngest individual to win the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam title—at the age of 19—she is recognized for combining her spellbound voice and powerful imagery on stage, captivating audiences in the United States, France, the UK, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bermuda, and Cuba. She has showcased at world-renowned venues including New York City’s Town Hall Theater and Apollo Theater, and the Paradiso in Amsterdam. By request of the UN Youth Delegates, she has performed for ambassadors, national politicians, diplomats, and directors of various agencies at the United Nations, and she performed at the NAACP’s Barack Obama Inaugural event in Washington DC.
Aja Monet’s has three books of poetry. My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter (May 2017) is Aja Monet’s ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world. Inner-City Chants & Cyborg Cyphers (June 2015) is a music and ebook collection in which Monet “explores the double consciousness, or two realms, that those who are oppressed, especially women of color, manage everyday: confronting the everyday physical realities of their situations and the mental travel needed to cope, survive, and transform bleak situations” (Modern Griot). It is a testimony to family and self, memory, loss and remembrance, home and the journey away from home to find one’s self—and to build a stronger community. The Black Unicorn Sings was independently published in 2010. Of this collection, the Dodge Poetry Festival wrote, “Throughout Monet’s poems in The Black Unicorn Sings, she returns to strong female characters, and sometimes to broken female characters that need some uplifting. In both of these cases, Monet is celebrating the spirit of women and what they are capable of, with herself often as a primary example of this.” In 2012, she collaborated with poet/musician Saul Williams on a book entitled, Chorus: A Literary Mixtape: “the anthem of a new generation of poets unified by the desire to transcend the identity politics of the day and begin to be seen as one,” published by MTV Books/Simon & Schuster.
As a musician, in 2014 Aja Monet released Courage, an EP on MassAppeal.com inspired by Maya Angelou’s discussion of the virtue; her video for the single “Be Brave” was featured on Essence.com. Her first compilation of music and poetry, Scared to Make Love/Scared Not To, is a testament to her creative lens and a social commentary on the discussion of love. She has opened for Robert Glasper and Talib Kweli for the CELEBRATE BROOKLYN Concert series at the Prospect Park Bandshell stage for over 8000 people and has performed her music at MASS MoCA.
Influenced by all areas of the Arts, Aja Monet also works closely with visual artists. She was invited by contemporary artist Hank Willis Thomas and scholar Deborah Willis to speak at Musee du Quai Branly for NYU’s Black Portraitures Conference in Paris, where she addressed international scholars, artists, and performers on the role of the poet in contemporary society; and she was invited by Carrie Mae Weems to be a featured poet for Carrie Mae Weems Live: Past Tense/Future Perfect at the Guggenheim Museum as well as a part of Weems Photography in the Garden event at the Museum of Modern Art.
A 2009 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Aja Monet received her BA in Liberal Arts and was awarded the The Andrea Klein Willison Prize for Poetry to recognize undergraduate students whose work in poetry “effectively examines relationships among women, especially in the context of justice for everyone.” She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011.
Aja Monet’s is a voice of truth and gentle strength—and she makes her words count.
Harry Belafonte has called Aja Monet “The true definition of an artist.” An internationally established poet, singer, performer, and educator, Monet’s craft is an in-depth reflection of emotional wisdom, skill, and activism. The youngest individual to win the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam title, she is recognized for combining her spellbound voice and powerful imagery on stage. Her books of poetry are My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter (2017) Inner-City Chants & Cyborg Cyphers (2015), and The Black Unicorn Sings (Penmanship books). In addition, she collaborated with poet/musician Saul Williams on the book Chorus: a literary mixtape (MTV books/Simon & Schuster). Her first CD, Scared to Make Love/Scared Not To, a testament to her creative lens and a social commentary on the discussion of love, was independently released through Bandcamp. Of Cuban-Jamaican heritage, Monet has performed at world-renowned venues including the Town Hall Theater, the Apollo Theater, the United Nations in New York City, and the NAACP’s Barack Obama Inaugural event in Washington DC.
MY MOTHER WAS A FREEDOM FIGHTER (Poetry, 2017)
Textured with the sights and sounds of growing up in East New York in the nineties, to school on the South Side of Chicago, all the way to the olive groves of Palestine, My Mother Is a Freedom Fighter is Aja Monet’s ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world. Complemented by striking cover art from Carrie Mae Weems, these stunning poems tackle racism, sexism, genocide, displacement, heartbreak, and grief, but also love, motherhood, spirituality, and Black joy.
THE BLACK UNICORN SINGS (Poetry, 2010)
“Throughout Monet’s poems in The Black Unicorn Sings, she returns to strong female characters, and sometimes to broken female characters that need some uplifting. In both of these cases, Monet is celebrating the spirit of women and what they are capable of, with herself often as a primary example of this.” —Dodge Poetry Festival Blog
CHORUS (Anthology, 2012)
Chorus is the anthem of a new generation of poets unified by the desire to transcend the identity politics of the day and begin to be seen as one. One hundred voices woven through testimony and new testament. It is the cry of the unheard. The occupation of the page itself. It embodies the “speak-up” spirit of the moment, the confidence propagated through hip-hop, and the defiant “WTF?” of the now. It is the voice that comes after the rebellious voice that once cried, “I want my MTV!” branded back to where punk was, slammed up and beyond it. A combination of trash, heart, and craft. An anthology in rant. CHORUS is what all modern-day losers chant. With coeditors Saul Williams and Dufflyn Lammers, Monet brings together powerful poetic forms from all over the world into one mixtape inside a book.
YOU MAKE HOLY WAR
You who are beautiful,
There is no image
like the image
of a man that thinks.
The inside of my right thigh
will be where he writes his autobiography.
He was obsessed with leaving notes on my skin
and I will wake up some mornings,
walk past the bathroom-mirror
finding things like
drawn backwards across my collar bone.
This is to the man
that throws a penny
in the water fountain
and it throws it back,
the metaphor of your life.
the day before you came,
the sky fell,
dripping red from God’s veins.
It smelled of all the wet things in New York City.
When I got home,
soaking and heavy,
it was silent—
The clock clapped
I was hoping you’d bring me flowers
from the last grave
where you buried your mind.
I was hoping
you’d at least
You simply smiled
and shook your head
so that your hair,
silly and waving,
rambled over your forehead
like surrendering flags.
You make my blood self-conscious.
I can’t look at you
without a little girl drowning in me,
without a self-righteous woman
running naked down my spine,
a dove flapping its wings
against the walls of my stomach,
I can’t look at you without tripping over my eyelids.
You hold a world
in those eyes of yours
When God made you,
he wrote his first suicide note,
folded it into your breath
and prayed that you’d be the death of Him.
You bring out the fear in me,
the fear of God’s eyelash.
You give this living
a life of loving
left laying on the lie of this world,
so god damned
for making me think
about you so hard.
I went to church today,
and left two pills of Advil
for God at the altar,
I said a prayer for Him,
that He will not turn to narcotics
or lonely nights of drinking wine
in His empty room,
or that a song won’t play on the radio
or in heaven
and remind Him
of when He was younger
and it was okay—
it was okay, to make mistakes.
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