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Long-Time Poet, First-Time Author: Aja Monet on Publishing, Womanhood, and Freedom Fighting

Jonathan Shoemaker
Aja Monet reading poetry.

It’s hard to encapsulate a person’s life and experiences in printed words. No matter how eloquent the writing, there will always be moments and pieces left to speculation. This was one of Aja Monet’s biggest worries when she first considered publishing her poetry.

"What people see on the page is not always what reflects what I'm feeling in the moment," Monet explains. "Poems, I feel like, are a process. They're not really a product, they're not meant to be digested and then taken as a definitive thing. I feel like they're always changing as you're growing and developing." 

Although Monet's career extends back more than 15 years, her new book, My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter, is her first published collection. She will be in Milwaukee on Saturday, May 27, for an event at Boswell Book Company which will take a deep dive into the collection as a reflection of Monet's larger body of work. 

The poems provide a glimpse into Monet’s experiences as a Caribbean-American woman growing up in Brooklyn and traveling the world, and they reveal the moments of contemplation that make up the fabric of who she is today.

"Some of these poems have gotten me through some really tough times, they continue to," she says. "And so they're connected by my own experiences in the world, but they're also connected by the violence in the world against women and women's struggle to respond to that violence, and to heal from that violence."

"Freedom fighter could work like: freedom fighter, fighting <em>for</em> freedom or <em>fighting</em> freedom."

The title, My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter, was borrowed from one of the poems featured in the book, but it also speaks to one of the themes that emerges from the collection. Many of the poems deal with the concept of freedom as it pertains to women, in a society that often seeks to limit their mobility.

"Language is a funny thing, especially the English language," says Monet. "It's more anguish than it is liberating sometimes, dealing with the English language. But you know, freedom fighter could work like: freedom fighter, fighting for freedom or fighting freedom. There's a play on words there that is actually really interesting, that I've started to reflect on."

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect.