Aja Monet

1987

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Poet Biography

Born in New York City to parents of Cuban and Jamaican descent and raised in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York, Aja Monet Bacquie began writing poems when she was eight or nine years old. While attending Baruch College Campus High School, she performed spoken-word for school talent shows. Around this time, Monet joined Urban Word NYC—a non-profit organization that offers guidance and public platforms to young writers, particularly those of color—and became a part of a community of aspiring urban writers.

At 19, Monet became the youngest winner of Nuyorican Poets Café’s Grand Slam. She later earned her Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and MFA in Creative Writing from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Not long after graduation, she published two chapbooks: The Black Unicorn Sings (2010) and Inner-City Cyborgs and Ciphers (2014). Both were later released as e-books. Monet also co-edited and arranged the spoken-word collection Chorus: A Literary Mixtape (2012) with Saul Williams and writer and actress Dufflyn Lammers.

Monet has performed spoken-word in France (she lived, briefly, in Paris), England, Belgium, Bermuda, and Cuba. During her visit to Cuba, Monet connected with her extended family there—relatives from whom her U.S.-based family had become estranged after Monet’s grandmother fled the island. In 2018, Monet released her first full-length poetry collection, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, dedicated to women of the Black diaspora and to mothers. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry.

The collection includes her best-known poem #sayhername, a dedication to the Black female victims of police brutality often overlooked by news media and activists. Inspiration for the poem came after an event at which Monet read a poem that expressed her solidarity with the struggle of Palestinians. Eve Ensler, who was in attendance, invited Monet to contribute a poem to the #SayHerName vigil. Monet joined Ensler, legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, and others on May 20, 2015 in New York’s Union Square to remember Black women and girls murdered by police.

Monet, who lives in Little Haiti, Miami, co-founded Smoke Signals Studio in Miami—an arts collective dedicated to music, art, and community organizing. She also manages the poetry workshop Voices: Poetry for the People and organized its first annual Maroon Poetry Festival in the Liberty City section of Miami.

In 2018, Monet was a speaker at TEDWomen, where she appeared alongside Georgia legislator Stacey Abrams and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman. Monet has expressed admiration for the work of fellow Black women poets June Jordan, Jayne Cortez, Carolyn Rodgers, Wanda Coleman, Audre Lorde, and Phillis Wheatley.

Sources

Crum, Maddie. “Poet Aja Monet Confronts Police Brutality in Stunning Spoken Word Performance.” The Huffington Post. July 7, 2016. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/aja-monet-poem-police-brutality_n_577ec3e1e4b0c590f7e8a758

Rodrigues, Chenae. “In conversation with poet Aja Monet.” gal—dem. November 7, 2017. https://gal-dem.com/blackness-borders-bars-interview-poet-aja-monet/

Segura, Olga M. “The Love and Fearlessness of ‘My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.’” Shondaland. May 8, 2018. https://www.shondaland.com/inspire/books/a20268443/my-mother-was-a-freedom-fighter-aja-monet-interview/

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