Lenelle Moise
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Lenelle Moise

Northampton, Massachusetts, United States | SELF

Northampton, Massachusetts, United States | SELF
Band Spoken Word Jazz


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"Book Review"

"...Homewrecker takes a remarkable turn toward the divine with Lenelle Moise's
'Cuck(h)olding a Stranger.' [Moise] offers a rythmic, captivating story of betrayel between races that pulses like the rapid heartbeat of the teenage character who treads on taboo territory." -Amanda Witherell - San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Book Review"

"...In the first three pages of her story "Cuck(h)olding a Stranger," Lenelle Moise
does the best job I've seen yet of saying something truthful, in literature, about the complicated relationship between Black Women and Jewish men...Impressive."
-Dan Oppenheimer
- Valley Advocate.

"Feature Article"

by Jordan Erlich

When politicized poet, playwright and performance artist, Lenelle Moise takes the stage get ready for a bout of powerful gut-wrenching incisive truth delivered by a masterful performer that can engage and connect with any audience.

In the fall of 1999 when I first stood witness to this emerging force of a talent belting out her poetry at a small open mic in Ithaca, New York, I was blown away by the sheer brilliance emanating from behind the microphone. I knew then that Lenelle was someone that was surely bound for great things…

Now… years later residing in Northampton, Massachusetts, armed with an MFA in playwriting from Smith College and a list of exceptional writing credits a mile long, her fiery texts about cross-cultural feminisms, growing up Haitian-American, and the intersection of race, class, gender, spirit, and sexuality continue to bellow out from her poetry and reel us in…

lady loud mouth
full of water
melon/cholic pubic
hair and other secret pleasures
ebon own

and love to eat.

why we faking cum
fort look like senseless
screw: no buds, no tips
no swallow of black
seeds? let’s open wide. let’s love

to eat.

a prayer for girls
who give it up but don’t
give in to freedom juice: may your bed
not be your box…

Lenelle’s writing and prose has been featured, well… all over the damn place, including RED LIGHT: Superhereos, Saints, and Sluts (Arsenal Pulp Press), Homewrecker (Soft Skull Press) along with three of her very own independently published chapbooks.

Earlier on in her writing career she was a member of the Ithaca, NY Slam team where she went on to induce standing ovations at both the 2000 and 2001 National Poetry Slams and was New WORLD Theater's 2003 Poetry Slam champion.

Should I keep going? Ok.

She was also the 2005 recipient of the Astraea Loving Lesbians Award for Poetry and in the fall of 2005, Lenelle facilitated I Am...Renaming the Sexual Revolution, a spokenword workshop (and nationally-distributed CD) sponsored by Planned Parenthood.

If this wasn’t enough… Lenelle is a frequent university guest artist performing all over the country… and she is currently touring her acclaimed one-woman show, WOMB-WORDS, THIRSTING. A show that can best be summed in this press release:

Mixing a brew full of womanist Vodou jazz,
queer theory hip-hop, "autobiofiction" and authentic movement, Womb-Words, Thirsting is an interactive evening of patchwork poetic storytelling delivered, slam-style, from the gut.
Join Haitian-American solo artist, Lenelle Moise,
as she reconceives memory and boldly speaks
(and moves, and sings) about childhood, cultural hybridity, neocolonialism, sexuality, AIDS and reclaiming f-words.
Versions of Womb-Words, Thirsting have been presented at the Kitchen Theatre Company, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and Wesleyan University.

This spring she will be performing her solo show four times at different universities with more shows to surely come throughout the next year. So stay in the know at…

http://www.lenellemoise.com/lenellerecites for all the up-to-date info.

To get a little more insight into this dynamic artist, I recently caught up with her for this little question answer session… and here’s what she had to say:

What sparked you to begin writing? And/or become serious about writing?

At the age of five, my uncle/godfather gave started giving me daily poetry writing assignments. He was an out of work poet at the time--living with us as he transitioned to fulltime cab-driving. To alleviate his boredom, he took me on as a protégé. He recited poems at church functions all about Haitian America. He taught me that a poem is not finished until it is heard. He also taught me that serious writing means meticulous editing. It's important for me to balance that initial flow/flood of language with dams of political clarity.

What specific themes and topics do you feel most compelled to write about?

I write about hyphens, displacement, turbulence, passion, dissonant symphonies, beautiful, flawed people and our self-love in the face of terror. I also engage the themes of sexuality, alternate masculinities, race, class, gender, and their interdependence. Lately, I've been documenting my childhood memories to help illustrate these themes.

Why do you feel they are important topics to explore in your writing?

In this hyper-capitalist, anti-being and pro-doing society, we desperately need each other's stories of resistance and survival.

What role does writing poetry play in your life? Is it more cathartic, artistic, or something that could play a role in improving society in some way? A mixture of all three?

I will not say that "writing is my life." Living is my life! But--for a culturally-hyphenated PoMosexual vagabond such as myself--poetry is the only home I can dare to claim. It's cool if my writing is cathartic for some or therapeutic for me, but I don't want my art to end at catharsis or therapy. I share my work so that people can question their notion of home, of family, of authority, and of identity. Perhaps such a line of questioning will catalyze the improvement of society at large.

Watching you perform your poetry in person is such a powerful experience. You use eye contact, voice inflections and body movement. How important is this when trying to convey the essence of your words?

There's nothing more powerful than being in a room with open people, recycling their energy and breath. To an extent, I rely on audience reaction to know if a poem really makes sense. A lot of that has to do with my cultural background, up until quite recently, Haitian-Kreyol was a strictly spoken language. Folks could only communicate meaning to one another by using inflection and gesture, in person. My parents still send cassette tapes, as opposed to letters, to their family and friends back home. That said, I sometimes worry that my voice/body might distract an audience member from really soaking up the text. If I'm reciting a poem about sexual assault, for example, and it makes a listener uncomfortable, she might escape that potentially useful discomfort by checking out my shoes or admiring the bold colors I'm wearing. That sort of thing doesn't happen on the page; the reader must consider every word and every line to decipher meaning. For better or for worse, they can't fall back on the performer's eye contact, vocal inflection, ugliness or beauty. You can't reread a live poem.

Do you believe that your poems in the text form suffer in the fact that they may not fully convey the message or impact that you intended?

Not every poem I write is meant for the stage. When I do recite a poem, the rhythm and pauses and inflection is often based on the line-breaks I create on the page. It's like writing music. The words are notes; my voice/body are the instruments I use to play a poem, to make the notes three-dimensional. At my best, I'm writing free jazz; the text on the page becomes a solid foundation (bass) from which I can vocally or physically or energetically improvise.

You mentioned that in your more recent work you have been documenting your childhood memories to help illustrate the themes that are important to you. Does your new one woman show Womb-Words, Thirsting stem from this? If not, how did it come about?

Yes. Womb-Words, Thirsting is all about how we use language to construct and communicate our identities. I employ my specific narrative as a Black, Haitian-American, queer(ed), working-class woman to provoke a discussion about identity-politics, in general.

I see that some of your new work reflects recent events, like the effects of hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the passing of Rosa Parks. Were these pieces written as immediate reactions or were they written looking back on them weeks later?

Both the New Orleans poem and "WORD ALTAR FOR ROSA PARKS" came crashing in, urgently and unexpectedly. I literally woke up in a cold sweat at 3 am on September 4 with my stomach doing back-flips. The phrase "jazz is underwater" kept replaying in my head so I knew I had to get out of bed and turn on the computer. It was a "sent" poem; the words were channeled, given to me. I didn't know where the poem was going when I started writing it, but once I got there, my stomach felt fine. I think of the Parks piece as a spontaneous prayer.

Tell us a little about what you think the future holds for you, near or far, in regards to writing or otherwise???

More published poems. More prose. More plays. More video. More movement. More pre-meditated risk-taking. More magic. Always magic.

- getunderground.com

"Feature Article"

Autobiofiction: A Journey through the Life and Work of Performance Artist Lenelle Moise
Alexia Vernon

Gender, Race, and Class. That was the name of my Introduction to Women's Studies course at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. These three markers are often viewed as the chief identity categories feminist theory and performance are attempting to explore. However Lenelle Moise, a self-identified "hyphenated pomosexual poet," moves beyond antiquated euphemisms such as "the personal is political" in her performance art, not only to politicize her bicultural Haitian-American, Black feminist lesbian identity, but also to problematize the notion that identity can be reduced to such clever categories. Postmodern to the core, Lenelle's performances ooze with sensuality, humor, adept political insight and physical virtuosity. She is a storyteller, performer and activist in one. And as I discovered reading poetry on her website lenellemoise.com, she is even a visual artist.

Although Lenelle just earned an MFA in Playwriting from Smith College in 2004, she has already received critical acclaim as a screenwriter. She co-wrote Sexual Dependency, Bolivian director's Rodrigo Bellott's first feature-length 2003 film exploring the U.S. media's impact on "Third World" youth and African American encounters with immigrant peoples. Interweaving a variety of protagonists' stories through one American underwear ad in Bolivia, the film won the International Film Critics' Award at the Locamo International Film Festival (Switzerland) and although available on DVD, has also been re-released in such independent movie theatres as New York City's Two Boots Pioneer Theatre and Rose Cinemas at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

I had the opportunity to see Lenelle live, performing her solo show, Womb-Words, Thirsting, at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. Lenelle's performances titillate the senses through their poetry, erotic physical expression and audience interaction. Lenelle is truly captivating to watch perform. She sings; she dances; but most importantly, she really knows how to engage her audiences in her work, no small feat when performing for American audiences conditioned for passive spectatorship. She invites her audiences to talk back to her, drawing on the African American performance tradition of call and response. Lenelle feels that it is vital to have permission to speak before a group and instructs us that when she says "KRIK?" asking us in Creole if we want to hear a story, we must respond with "KRAK!" confirming that indeed we do. We must give Lenelle permission to proceed.

Lenelle unabashedly makes eye contact with her audiences, letting them know that not only is she aware that she is being seen by them but that there is no fourth wall. As an audience member, one is as much a part of the performance as the performer. The spectator is also being spectated. For Lenelle, her commitment to performer and audience interaction is a byproduct of her African American history. She laughs during our post-performance interview, telling me, "I find that the Black folks I grew up around... they talked back to the TV. There was never any doubt that they had the right to say, 'No. Don't open that door. The monster is behind that door!' The character on the TV couldn't hear them but they knew there was a relationship there that was real, that they could break that wall. They could be present with the performance.' " In Western culture, "The audience listens quietly [and when I'm done] claps. And I'm trying to really interrupt that."

When watching Lenelle, one cannot help but feel that she has been performing on a stage her entire life. Unsurprisingly, Lenelle claims that art found her early, in the shape of her godfather, a poet. "When I was five year old," she reports, he "started harassing me, saying 'here's a pad of paper. Now, you go write.' And I would just write to him. And that's how I learned poetry. It was not only about writing it, but about reciting it. That's what made it complete for my godfather. And for me." In her teens, Lenelle had a desire to rap. Although she "didn't see many young women rappers happening," she was surrounded by a lot of singing. Raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, Lenelle spent a lot of time in church, which Lenelle says, "was always theatre."

However, Lenelle contests the Western notion that art should be separate from everyday living. "You know," she tells me, "what Americans call art really, in Haitian culture, is just what you do." She cites her mother as an example, remembering how when her mother "is really pissed off, she doesn't say anything. She doesn't say 'I'm pissed off.' She starts singing some old spiritual. And you can hear all the anger and all the nuance in the song she's singing. Art is life."

Lenelle's performances effortlessly meld autobiography, myth, and social commentary into what Lenelle defines as "autobiofiction." Lenelle contests the notion that memory can ever approximate a singular truth of what has passed. She says, "I don't think memory is real. It's just a game we play with ourselves. It's something we have to hold onto to feel sane." For Lenelle, people "remember our lives in retrospect. When you're looking back on something with all the knowledge you have now, you, you know, color it a bit." The act of telling a story is as much an act of picking what version of a story to tell as it is about the story itself. "It's the one that I choose to remember. It's the one I choose to share with you. There are probably alternatives."

Although Lenelle's performance style incorporates a variety of theatrical traditions, her devising process is complicated. "I always start with something and then it evolves… Right now, for example, I'm speaking to you, my hands are out, and I'm expressing. It's all happening at the same time… Sometimes I might just start a phrase of movement." Lenelle cites a dance-theatre section of Womb-Words about Emmett Till as an example. When developing the piece, "I just needed to do the movement and let that come and let that find itself and be articulated fully before I could speak the text that I already knew. It's a negotiation."

Heavily influenced by Brecht but believing in the power of first person storytelling, Lenelle concludes, "the first thing we can do as political people is to just value our personal lives. And to articulate and express because politics is about community. It's about connection, you know. It's about the ways in which we are linked. And how do I know that I am linked to you if I don't tell you my story and you don't tell me yours?" She asks me, earnestly, "How do we begin a conversation about some sort of macro dynamic if we don't have that interpersonal dynamic flowing?"


I had the opportunity to follow-up with Lenelle a few days after our interview, and I felt compelled to share her thoughts not only because they further articulate eloquently her notions of how her own life can simultaneously serve as vehicles for art and social activism, but also because they are her words, her truth. Lenelle told me about her visit to the Brooklyn Museum to see a retrospective on artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, someone she says she "would really love to interview" because he refuses "to make art using only a paint brush, paint and canvas. He did use those things, of course, but he integrated the force of his fingers, sometimes his blood. He painted on helmets, window frames and wood." Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lenelle Moise makes art because she has to, because the world she sees and the niche she has carved out for herself demand that she comment on what is going on around her.

Lenelle concludes her follow-up e-mail with her thoughts on the Third Wave movement and postmodernism. She says that the two have taught us, "We are never either/or but often some funky negotiation of both. It's my job as a genre-b(l)ending artist to learn everything I can about each form that interests me and then to trust that knowledge and express. It's not so much a 'jack of all trades, master of none' thing; rather, I aspire to be a master of fusion. Why should we be separatists in our political and artistic expression?"

Every time Lenelle performs, she starts a dialogue with her audiences. In Womb-Words, as in her poetry, her visual art or her films, she asks her audiences a variety of questions. Although she is genuinely interested to hear their answers, her goal is for people to question their own experiences and question what Lenelle is proposing through her body and her words. "I guess that's the simple way to say it," she concludes. I just want audiences to "be present with the presentation."
- F-Word Zine


"Riveting force of nature."
-Myriam J.A. Chancy, author of Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women in Exile

"Lenelle Moise and her performance were a tour de force. Womb-Words, Thirsting was engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining from the first vocal expression to the last word, and the audience would have been more than happy to hear more. Lenelle’s willingness to engage with students and community members on a personal and intimate level through group discussions and workshops went above and beyond, and left students and faculty clamoring for a return engagement. The subjects touched upon in Lenelle’s work are critically important for college students to examine and ponder. Lenelle leaves them with plenty to think about, and, hopefully, a broader mind with which to do the thinking."
-Holly L. Cargill-Cramer, Director of Communications and Public Affairs @
SUNY Cobleskill

"Lenelle Moise examines issues of race, class, gender and sexuality--issues that impact all of our lives--in a beautifully creative wat that is all at once funny, sad, provocative, inspiring, and engaging. As we work on campus and in our communities to do the hard work of learning from each other and building coalitions to work for social change, Lenelle's powerful performance challenges the audience, with her incisive stories and poetry, to do just that. She is a much needed powerhouse of truth and inspiration."
-Kaite Dunn, Evergreen State College student

-Saul Williams, star of Slam

"Lenelle writes about now--about this generation."
-Jorge Ignacio Cortinas, playwright

"360 degrees artist."
-Magdalena Gomez, poet & playwright

"Elegant, powerful, relevant." -gooselove, poet

"I had the pleasure of being present at one of Lenelle's remarkably inspirational, spirited and brilliant shows on 3/8/07. I am thankful for people like her and I wish everyone had the courage to stand up and fight against adversity. She does this in such a creative and beautiful way through movement,the spoken word, poetry, and prose. I am grateful to have been witness to such talent...Thanks Lenelle you are truly and inspiration!"
-student @ Keene State College

- Various

"Feature Article"

Lenelle Moise gives voice to her Haitian-lesbian identity with some powerful poetry.
By Beth Greenfield

On the title track of Lenelle Moise’s new CD, Madivinez, the smoky-voiced spoken-word artist manages to take the Haitian Creole insult for “lesbian” and turn it into a proud and luscious term.

“Even though it’s derogatory—it’s actually the worst thing you can call a woman—it’s so beautiful: madivinez, my divine,” says Moise, on the phone from her home in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she lives with her partner of seven years. Still, she doesn’t fail to see the message behind the epithet. “There is no real word for lesbian. And if your language doesn’t have a word for lesbian, then you have to work a little harder to find your value.”

The slam-style poet, playwright and actor, who brings her one-woman show, Womb-Words, Thirsting, to the Culture Project as part of the Women Center Stage Series this week, has certainly labored hard to find hers. Just 28, the Smith College grad has already had work commissioned by various theater companies, including the Next Wave of Women in Power (for a 2004 produced by Eve Ensler and Jane Fonda). Her work has been published in numerous anthologies, and her grants and awards have included the James Baldwin Memorial Award in Playwriting and an Astraea Loving Lesbians Award for Poetry, which she used to create Madivinez, produced by women’s-music legend June Millington.

Though she chose to record her CD as both an experiment and a way to collect her works, poetry, for this writer, typically equals performance.

“My earliest memory of poetry was seeing it,” she explains. “My uncle was a poet—and a big influence on me when I began writing at 5. He would recite in church, and extend his energy through the entire room.”

That idea has also been
cemented by the highly visual language of Creole, which Moise learned after being brought with her parents to Cambridge from Port-au-Prince at the age of 2. “Haitian Creole wasn’t ever written, even up until about 50 years ago, so to communicate any meaning you really do have to be there with someone,” she explains. “To this day, when my family sends letters home, they will often send cassettes.”

Moise writes on subjects from race and class struggles to love and feminist-fueled anger, her verses tumbling out in a delivery that’s like smooth notes of jazz one second, rapid-fire bullets the next. In the passionate “Ave Maria,” for example—“A girl like a white light converted me faithful to the good church of queer…”—she recalls her first female lover, from college. “She was a bisexual photography major who smoked cigarettes and was very theatrical and seductive,” the writer recalls; “The Fuck You Now Manifesto,” meanwhile, is as pissed off (“I’m sick of this shit, this be polite shit…I am reclaiming my right to call a racist a fucking asshole…”) as it sounds. But, the poet insists, the anger is not something she carries around with her. “I passed through it,” she says. “Once I wrote that, I was able to let it go.”

In addition to bringing plenty of drama into her delivery, Moise has recently added song—courtesy of her own powerhouse voice. Her singing came as a surprise to her, she says, and was discovered when a character she played in a grad school production had to belt out a tune. “I was petrified,” she recalls. “I’m a word girl.” Soon, though, the self-described “jazz-head” settled into the idea; her Madivinez includes several bits of her soulful singing and scatting, including in a funky snippet from “We Shall Overcome” that appears in her own “Second Coming.”

Moise also experiments with direct interaction with her audience. “I’m really interested in breaking down the fourth wall of theater,” she says. “And one of the ways is just by saying, ‘I can hear you, I can see you. We’re all in this together,’ and trying to create a casual ceremony with the audience.” Moise will often call “Krik!,” to get the response, “Krak!”—a Creole tradition without exact translation, which is basically the storyteller getting permission from her listeners. “If you imagine being outside in the dark,” she explains, “Krik is like the lighting of the match, and krak is the flame catching.”

Womb-Words, Thirsting is Thu 28 at the Culture Project. See daily listings and also lenellemoise.com. - Time Out New York

"Feature Article"


Spoken word artist Lenelle Moise has an interesting take on the written word. “For me, a poem isn’t finished until I’ve read it aloud,” says the pomosexual poet. “It’s like a love letter—you have to give it to someone.”

Moise’s love letter to us all is her new CD, Madivinez, which contains spoken word poetry in addition to some jazz vocalizations and scatting. “Madivinez,” by the way, is the insulting term for “lesbian” in Kreyol (the language of Moise’s birthplace, Haiti). Just as many lesbians have embraced the word “dyke,” Moise has reclaimed “madivinez” as her own. She thinks the word sounds beautiful.

“Kreyol has always been a primarily spoken language. It's delicious in your mouth. Really musical and expressive. When I hear it, I want to dance. So I aim to speak English that way, in cadences that make you want to dance,” she says. She’s currently touring with her one-woman semi-autobiographical show, Womb-Words, Thirsting. Her work addresses race, gender, class, and sexuality, but Moise tries to bring humor to her delivery.

“Funny is important. I want folks to feel inspired, em-powered and changed after a show. I can only accomplish this by keeping things down-to-earth,” she says.

In addition to the CD and the tour, Moise, a Smith College graduate, is writing a play called Expatriate, set to premiere in April ‘08. She’s also cranking out an as-yet-untitled memoir, “one line at a time,” and has been published in numerous anthologies, including Women Warriors, edited by Alix Olson, and We Don’t Need Another Wave, edited by Melody Berger. She is a recipient of The Astraea Loving Lesbians Award in Poetry. –Rebecca DeRosa - GO Magazine

"Press Quotes"

"Lenelle Moise brings fierce passion..."

"Moise writes on subjects from race and class struggles to love and feminist-fueled anger, her verses tumbling out in a delivery that’s like smooth notes of jazz one second, rapid-fire bullets the next."

"When politicized poet, playwright and performance artist Lenelle Moise takes the stage, get ready for a bout of powerful gut-wrenching incisive truth...a masterful performer."

"Piercing, covering territory both intimate and political...vivid & powerful."

"Lenelle Moise...gives vivid life...intensity."

"With all the theater out there, how inspiring it is to be reminded how invigorating an Off Broadway play can be with just two appealing performers, compelling music and a searching, intelligent script. Lenelle Moïse, a poet, playwright and performer, has written, composed and stars in “Expatriate,” a two-woman production at the Culture Project that delivers on all counts.”
- Various


*Madivinez (2007)
*I AM...Renaming the Sexual Revolution (2005)



"Lenelle Moïse brings fierce passion..." -THE NEW YORK TIMES

"Piercing, covering territory both intimate and political...vivid and powerful" -CURVE MAGAZINE

"A masterful performer." -GETUNDERGROUND.COM

Lenelle Moïse is an award-winning poet, playwright, essayist, college speaker, actress and nationally-touring performance artist. She creates intimate, fiery, politicized, texts about the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality, culture and resistance. Her hip-hop bred, jazz-infused delivery is at once conversational and polished. Fueled by the motto “Words rouse worlds,” she regularly presents interactive performances and workshops that empower diverse groups of people to creatively speak up and act for social change. Equipped with an MFA from Smith College, Moïse has been a guest artist at the United Nations, the Culture Project, the Omega Institute and dozens of colleges and conferences across the United States. Her writing is published in a number of anthologies, including "Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution," "We Don't Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists" and "Brassage: An Anthology of Poems by Haitian Women." Book this dynamic artist: booking@lenellemoise.com