For the second episode of the New York series, I have the current “cool girl” of spoken word poetry, Aja Monet, the youngest winner of the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam. Since winning the coveted title, Aja has performed all over the United States, France, the UK, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bermuda, and Cuba.
In 2012, she collaborated on a book with iconic poet and musician Saul Williams, called Chorus: A Literary Mixtape and has smoothed into music, producing her first album, Scared to Make Love, Scared not To. For this episode, Aja talks about living in Paris, the role of the poet in social transformation, music and Tupac Shakur.
“The true definition of an artist” is how the iconic Harry Belafonte describes Aja Monet who is a poet, performer, and educator from East NY, Brooklyn. She is best known as the youngest individual to win the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam title. An internationally established poet, she is recognized for combining her spellbound voice and powerful imagery on stage, captivating audiences across the United States, France, the UK, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bermuda, and Cuba.
She has showcased at world-renowned venues including On Broadway at the Town Hall Theater, Apollo Theater, Paradiso in Amsterdam, and countless others. Aja Monet was invited by the UN Youth Delegates to perform for ambassadors, national politicians, diplomats, and directors of various agencies at the United Nations in New York City. As well, she was invited to perform for NAACP’s Barack Obama Inaugural event in Washington DC.
Aja Monet’s work has philosophical impact on perspective and critical thinking as she seeks to pose questions about the power of the imagination and metaphor in developing transformative visions on internal worlds and how we engage with global issues. Largely influencing the spoken word community, Aja Monet uses poetry to empower and encourage holistic healing in youth education. She works with inner-city youth as a Teaching Artist for Urban Word NYC as well as Urban Arts Partnership in NYC where she encourages her students to delve into creative outlets to harness meaning in the world and to transform it by transforming selves. She was invited by Cook County Commissioners of Illinois to perform for elected officials and visited numerous youth institutions, developing voices as an alternative to violence using poetry as a transformative force.
Influenced by all areas of the Arts, Aja Monet has worked closely with visual artists as well and 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, France where she addressed international scholars, artists, and performers on the role of the poet in contemporary society.
A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College (2009), Aja Monet received her BA in Liberal Arts and was awarded the The Andrea Klein Willison Prize for Poetry which was established to recognize undergraduate students whose work in poetry “effectively examines relationships among women, especially in the context of justice for everyone.” She then went on to receive an MFA in Creative Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2011). Her Graduate thesis was also her first compilation of music and poetry. Entitled Scared to Make Love/Scared Not To, it is a testament to her creative lens and a social commentary on the discussion of love.
Aja Monet independently published her first book of poetry, The Black Unicorn Sings (2010). In 2012, she collaborated with poet/musician Saul Williams on a book entitled, Chorus: A Literary Mixtape (MTV Books/Simon & Schuster). She is currently working on new music and a ebook of poems to be released online June 1st, 2014 entitled, “Inner-City Chants & Cyborg Cyphers.”
Intro/outro music: “Rainbow” by Emilie Simon. Remix from the original.
Additional music: “A tua choradeira é meio salário em lenços” by Stealing Orchestra & Rafael Dionísio. Remix from the original.
“She Sweats” by Aja Monet. Directed and produced by Camovement for The ArtWorks Collection.
“Us” written and produced by Aja Monet, from the album, Scared to Make Love/Scared Not To.