Aja Monet

Aja Monet

Aja Monet, Poet, Writer, Lyricist, and Activist. 

She was awarded the WYCA of the City of New York’s “One to Watch Award” and was the youngest individual to ever win the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe Grand Slam title, at the age of 19. 

"When I won the Nuyorican, I was mostly concerned with the poetry community. It was important to me to be considered, among them, accomplished and worthy of the title ‘poet.' The Nuyorican is legendary, and I have always admired those who won the title prior to me. I looked to all the poets coming through the Nuyorican as ordained voices; something about the energy in that venue harvests a certain kind of air around the poet. It somehow legitimizes your craft and also creates a standard. Everyone who has won the title has gone on to do great things. This was at a time when the Nuyorican published books for poets and gave grants to local artists. Now, essentially, you have to take the title and run with it: nothing is given to you except the title.”

"I worked to bring meaning to that title. Everywhere I go, I mention it because it gave me the permission to say, 'I does this. I’m about this life.’ At the time I was coming up, there wasn’t any degree for spoken word— the Nuyorican was my degree. Now, that is changing thanks to some of the movements made by many of the poets that came through the Nuyorican: Saul Williams, Sarah Jones, Mayda Del Valle, Paul Beatty, and others. The venue was created with a certain spirit, and it is important to preserve that spirit in the midst of commercialization and gentrification. I worry for that with New York changing so much and the way everything is commodified.  The Nuyorican is a place just as much as it is a title, and I like to remind people of that. It’s my home. I come from somewhere. I speak of stories that weren’t welcomed in the literary circles of academia not too long ago and we still aren’t, stories that aren’t told or written. I wanted to live up to the magic I believed in when I was a young teenager about this place. I hope I make the greats proud."

"I also don’t like how often people diminish me to looks whereas with male poets it’s rarely if ever mentioned. Talk about the craft or if you don’t feel like there is any craft, say that. My biggest obstacle has been myself. I have had to learn to trust myself in spite of the stereotypes and judgments that come with the idea of spoken word."

Mass Appeal, Photograph via St Johns Cultural Council

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