“In Paris, she walked out onto the stage, opened her mouth and spoke. At the first utterance I heard that rare something that said this is special and knew immediately that Aja Monet was one of the Ones who will mark the sound of the ages. She brings depth of voice to the voiceless, and through her we sing a powerful song.” —Carrie Mae Weems
A voice of truth and gentle strength, Harry Belafonte has called Aja Monet “The true definition of an artist.” Of Cuban-Jamaican descent, Aja Monet is an internationally established poet, performer, singer, songwriter, educator, and human rights advocate. Her craft is an in-depth reflection of emotional wisdom, skill, and activism. In both Aja Monet’s poetry and songs, she poses questions about the power of the imagination and metaphor in how we engage with local and global issues. As a Teaching Artist for Urban Word NYC as well as Urban Arts Partnership in NYC, she uses poetry as a therapeutic tool with at-risk inner city kids, showing how words can empower and encourage holistic healing in youth education. She teaches her students to harness meaning in the world and to transform the world by transforming selves. In an interview, Monet speaks to her passion for education: “Education gave me perspective on my circumstances and it fueled my imagination by providing me with teachers that made the difference where my parenting may have failed. Education was the village that raised me. I care about it because I recognize the difference it makes in my life and the impact it has on fine-tuning my vision.”
In 2014, she was awarded the YWCA of the City of New York’s “One to Watch Award”—an award established in honor of Monet’s work to honor women under the age of 30 who exemplify the mission of the organization: to empower women and eliminate racism. Aja Monet volunteers with Justice League NYC, a coalition working on juvenile justice to end police violence both in New York City and nationally. In one of her many speaking appearances, she addressed the Cook County Commissioners of Illinois, performed for elected officials, and visited numerous youth institutions, developing voices as an alternative to violence. In 2015, she traveled to Palestine on a solidarity trip with the Dream Defenders where US activists from across the nation met with Palestinian activists and artists to share, create, and learn.
The youngest individual to win the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam title—at the age of 19—she is recognized for combining her spellbound voice and powerful imagery on stage, captivating audiences in the United States, France, the UK, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bermuda, and Cuba. She has showcased at world-renowned venues including New York City’s Town Hall Theater and Apollo Theater, and the Paradiso in Amsterdam. By request of the UN Youth Delegates, she has performed for ambassadors, national politicians, diplomats, and directors of various agencies at the United Nations, and she performed at the NAACP’s Barack Obama Inaugural event in Washington DC.
Aja Monet’s has two books of poetry. Inner-City Chants & Cyborg Cyphers (June 2015) is a music and EBook collection in which Monet “explores the double consciousness, or two realms, that those who are oppressed, especially women of color, manage everyday: confronting the everyday physical realities of their situations and the mental travel needed to cope, survive, and transform bleak situations” (Modern Griot). It is a testimony to family and self, memory, loss and remembrance, home and the journey away from home to find one’s self—and to build a stronger community. The Black Unicorn Sings was independently published in 2010. Of this collection, the Dodge Poetry Festival wrote, “Throughout Monet’s poems in The Black Unicorn Sings, she returns to strong female characters, and sometimes to broken female characters that need some uplifting. In both of these cases, Monet is celebrating the spirit of women and what they are capable of, with herself often as a primary example of this.” In 2012, she collaborated with poet/musician Saul Williams on a book entitled, Chorus: A Literary Mixtape: “the anthem of a new generation of poets unified by the desire to transcend the identity politics of the day and begin to be seen as one,” published by MTV Books/Simon & Schuster.
As a musician, in 2014 Aja Monet released Courage, an EP on MassAppeal.com inspired by Maya Angelou’s discussion of the virtue; her video for the single “Be Brave” was featured on Essence.com.Her first compilation of music and poetry, Scared to Make Love/Scared Not To, is a testament to her creative lens and a social commentary on the discussion of love. She has opened for Robert Glasper and Talib Kweli for the CELEBRATE BROOKLYN Concert series at the Prospect Park Bandshell stage for over 8000 people and has performed her music at MASS MoCA.
Influenced by all areas of the Arts, Aja Monet also works closely with visual artists. She 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, where she addressed international scholars, artists, and performers on the role of the poet in contemporary society; and she was invited by Carrie Mae Weems to be a featured poet for Carrie Mae Weems Live: Past Tense/Future Perfect at the Guggenheim Museum as well as a part of Weems Photography in the Garden event at the Museum of Modern Art.
A 2009 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Aja Monet received her BA in Liberal Arts and was awarded the The Andrea Klein Willison Prize for Poetry to recognize undergraduate students whose work in poetry “effectively examines relationships among women, especially in the context of justice for everyone.” She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011.