Aja Monet recognized the shifts that were about to come during quarantine early in April.
Monet, this year’s Free Verse: Charleston Poetry Festival headliner, launched her own Facebook Live virtual poetry reading event, Homemade, leveraging our new shared connections through screens and social media.
“Anytime I have the opportunity to do this, especially in this time of isolation and virtual living, I get to meet new people, see new faces and hear new ideas,” Monet said. “Your mind travels, even if your body can’t physically travel, so I look forward to time spent sharing space creatively with people.”
This isn’t Monet’s first encounter with virtual festivals and events this year. In adiditon to her own efforts organizing virtual events to encourage the community to stick together, Monet had the opportunity to present her work to an audience alongside other artists working with a South African poetry organiation called Hear My Voice.
“I consider myself an organizer and a cultural worker, not necessarily an activist,” she said. “My goal is to move folks into a collection orientation of the world that dispels the myth of ego and individualism. I think art, when it’s really good, can do that.”
Through Monet’s work, her own values of a collective consciousness and an overarching desire to create a society that is rooted in humanity are evident.
Her use of vivid imagery has been widely praised, and she is the youngest poet to ever win the Nuyorican Poets Café Grand Slam title. She has also been granted the 2019 Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award because of her organization’s efforts in South Florida, and she was nominated in 2018 for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Although she may have a long list of accomplishments she is grateful for, Monet doesn’t let herself get hung up on solely validating her work through titles and trophies.
“It’s important never to hold too much in what other people say about your work because if you don’t get it, you can fall into a trap of feeling like what you’re doing in the world isn’t valuable or necessary,” Monet explained. “If my work is able to do anything to help, inspire or motivate another woman or man to be transformed by his or her own storytelling and capacity to live in courage and purpose, then I feel accomplished and awarded.”
The Free Verse Festival is a week-long event from Oct. 11 through Oct. 18 with nightly happenings including an Instagram Live open mic night and poetry readings with Mississippi Poet Laureate Beth Ann Fennelly on Facebook and YouTube. Tune in to Monet’s poetry reading and conversation for free at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 on Instagram Live to hear her inspiring work and learn more about her as an organizer and a poet.
Check out the festival website for all event details and streaming sources.