Lenelle Moïse

Haitian-American powerhouse Lenelle Moïse is an award-winning poet, playwright, essayist, composer and nationally-touring performance artist. She creates intimate, fiery, politicized, texts about the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality, culture and resistance. 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 Louisiana Superdome, the Omega Institute and dozens of theatres, colleges and conferences across the United States and Canada. Curve Magazine calls her poetry "piercing, covering territory both intimate and political...vivid and powerful." Her critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway play, "Expatriate" inspired her second CD "The Expatriate Amplification Project," an all-vocal, poly-rhythmic, urban fusion of jazz, funk and soul. Moïse's 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. She is the 2010-2012 Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA.

How do you describe your music to people?
If Zora Neale Hurston were a jazz vocalist, it might sound like this. "The Expatriate Amplification Project" is story-driven, percussive, fun, funky, all-vocal. The sound is earthy but it looks up at the stars. I am especially proud of the lyrics…little anthems for survival, travel, freedom and individuality. I hope listeners sing along.

Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.

I have been writing poetry since the age of 5. My godfather was a poet. He was babysitting me one day and I told him I was bored. He told me to go write a poem and I haven’t stopped since. I wrote my first song when I was in the 5th grade, mourning the Gulf War. I still write songs. I still mourn wars. My formal training is in the theatre. I have an MFA in Playwriting. The music I composed for "The Expatriate Amplification Project" was fueled by playwriting. In my play, "Expatriate," the two main characters, Claudie and Alphine, are best-friends and musicians. Their dialogue is revealing but they are most vulnerable and honest with each other when they break into song. On the CD, I sing with my Off-Broadway co-star Karla Mosley and we are very much “in character,” singing the story of the play.

What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
I love to laugh sincerely.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
My biggest challenges are totally self-imposed: I'm always trying to push myself to new levels, to think outside the box—to eliminate the box—to bring my audience with me on the journey. My goal is to balance artistic evolution with spiritual integrity and effective, inspirational communication. I want to bring my work to as many people as possible and to always have new creative work to do.

When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
An emcee, a lawyer and an actress. I’m not too far off as an adult: I write, I advocate for social justice and I perform.

In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
As a Haitian-American writer, I am so inspired by Haitian culture and the resiliency of Haitian people. I remain curious about Vodou and the religion’s irresistible legacy of beauty, resistance, empowerment and creative negotiation. I try to incorporate these elements into my work.

What other artists out there do you love?
I just discovered tUnE-yArDs. Amazing! I'd love to share a stage with Merrill Garbus. I am also a fan of the playwright Caryl Churchill, the poet Suheir Hammad, the novelist Dorothy Allison and the lyricist Fiona Apple. When I visit Europe, I’m going to spend a lot of time staring at Frank Ghery buildings. Can’t wait.

What does your future hold?
Brave imagination. Beautiful songs. Produced plays. Published books. More yoga. More compassionate love. Less stuff. I also really want to bring my two-woman play "Expatriate" to Paris; from February 10-12, CD Forum will present "Expatriate" in Seattle.

On August 28, 2010 at 7:30PM in New York, NY, The Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival will present a full staged reading of my newest play "Merit" at NYU's Shubert Theatre.