Alum Playwright Returns to Smith
Spotlight On Lenelle Moise
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 17:05
Smith alumna Lenelle Moise, a self-identified "culturally hyphenated pomosexual poet," will be making an appearance at Smith College once again. On Wednesday, Sept. 19 and Thursday, Sept. 20, Lenelle Moise will be starring in her one-woman show, "Womb-Words, Thirsting," in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre at Smith College.Lenelle Moise earned her MFA in playwriting from Smith College in 2004 and currently lives in Northampton. A slam-style poet, playwright, actor, author and queer feminist, Lenelle Moise fuses issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and politics in her works.
"Womb-Words, Thirsting" is an interactive evening of poetic storytelling, jazz, queer theory, hip-hop and movement. Lenelle Moise, a Haitian-American, speaks out about childhood, masculinity, sexualities, AIDS, cultural hybridity and reclaiming "f-words."
Instead of asking who Lenelle Moise is, it might be more appropriate to ask what she has accomplished. (Or, even better, what she hasn't accomplished - because that list would certainly read shorter!) Moise is a recipient of the 2006 Astraea Loving Lesbians Award in Poetry and a 2005 Drammy Award for Best Ensemble Acting. Her writing has been featured in numerous anthologies, including "We Don't Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists," "REDLIGHT: Superheroes, Saints & Sluts" and "Word Warriors: 30 Leaders of the Women's Spoken Word Movement." She also contributed 25 poems and monologues to "We Got Issues," produced by Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda and the Next Wave of Women in Power. Her plays include "Matermorphosis," performed this past summer at Amherst College, "The Many Faces of Nia," "Spilling Venus," "Cornered in the Dark," and "Purple." Moise currently has a new CD out, produced by June Millington, titled "Madivinez."
"Womb-Words, Thirsting," runs for one hour and 30 minutes. Tickets are $15 for the general public, $8 for seniors and low income patrons and $5 for students, and can be purchased through the Fine Arts Center Box Office. For more information, please call New World Theater at (413) 545-1972 or visit their Web site at www.newworldtheater.org. New World Theater, based at the Fine Arts Center of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is a regional leader in multicultural arts. The theater is dedicated to fostering cross-disciplinary works by artists of color.
Lenelle Moise took time out of her busy schedule to candidly answer a couple of questions. Read on to learn her thoughts on feminism, hot spots in Northampton, politics and more. There's no excuse for Smithies not to see her performance in "Womb-Words, Thirsting," Wednesday, Sept. 19 and Thursday, Sept. 20 in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre.
Why should Smith students see this?
Many students read good theory abut the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality, and my art is about embodying that intersection. I work hard at being playful about these challenging topics. I feel collective laughter is a bridge to collective understanding, so humor is a big part of the evening. You should come because it's fun! In one night you'll get fierce spoken word, true stories, movement and song.
How did the title, "Womb-Words, Thirsting," come about?
The title came to me in a dream. I've since spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. So far, I've come up with this: Words are the midwives I employ to help give birth to my identity. Words are the water that sustain my life. Audre Lorde once said it, "poetry is not a luxury."
You've done many past productions of "Womb-Words, Thirsting" in various locations. Is it nice to finally bring it to the Pioneer Valley?
Yes! I'm curious to see who shows up and what they'll contribute, energetically, to the piece.
What does being a feminist mean to you?
It means I care about gender, question power and work for equality. It means I'm concerned for women's bodies and all bodies that are "othered." Do we feel safe in our bodies? Are people denying or disrespecting us because of the labels they tag onto our bodies? Are we healthy? Have we eaten? Do we have shelter? Are we sexually satisfied? Do we feel that our bodies reflect who we are on the inside? These are my feminist concerns. That said, I more strongly identify with the term "womanist," coined by Alice Walker in the 1970s. I'm a womanist because my critique doesn't stop at gender oppression. I think about how systematic racism and classism collaborate with and even depend on gender oppression. That's what that "intersection" stuff I was talking about earlier refers to.
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Northampton?
Breakfast at the Amanouz Cafe. Sushi at Moshi Moshi. The Rare Books exhibits on the third floor at Neilson Library ... I'll keep the other places secret, though, so I can have some privacy when I'm out on a date!
At age 20, you co-wrote "Sexual Dependency." I'm 20, and I have trouble writing papers on time for class. What else was going on in your mind at this age? Do you feel like your ideas and perceptions of the world have evolved much? If so, what advice would you give to yourself at age 20? (And perhaps, to other Smithies in similar situations?)
I fell wildly in love at age 20 and that certainly distracted me from writing term papers! But it was great for my creative life. Before age 20, my work was very generalized. I wrote about the plight of "the Black man in America." Lots of grandiose metaphors. After 20, I started writing about people I actually knew - my uncles or a specific Brother that lived on my block. I internalized the notion that "the personal is political" and falling in love was a big part of that. I was no longer satisfied with the cerebral. I needed to write from my heart, from my gut, from my pelvis - where I felt things the most. I needed to describe a face, not regurgitate a statistic. "Sexual Dependency" was one of my first public efforts towards personalizing the political. The film is about how U.S. media influences youth, cross-culturally. Britney Spears and Paris Hilton - their images are also consumed in Bolivia where the filmmaker is from, and in Haiti where I'm from. So the film is example after tragic example of internalized oppression. But I'm a bit more hopeful than I was at age 20, so I would definitely co-write differently today. I'd write about the everyday acts of rebellion that keep oppressed people alive and sometimes joyful. I'd write about Carnival. That's my advice: celebrate empowerment.