Lenelle Moïse: Helping Miami’s LGBTQ Teens SpeakOut

Arts / Article

SpeakOUT, Tigertail’s Gay & Lesbian Teen Spoken Word Project, welcomes Lenelle Moïse for a week of workshops and performance. Moise is a lesbian and award-winning Haitian-American poet laureate, playwright, essayist, composer and nationally touring artist who creates intimate, fiery politicized texts about the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality, culture and resistance. She will work in residence with a focus on Haitian and Haitian-American LGBTQ teens in Miami-Dade. I interviewed Moïse over the New Year’s holiday about her fiery work, upcoming workshops with Miami-Dade’s LGBTQ teens and what she’s planning for her performance on Jan. 14.

Neil de la Flor: What’s the biggest difference between a successful spoken word poem and a written poem?

Lenelle Moïse: Powerful recitation starts with powerfully written words. It’s like writing music. The line breaks I create on the page inform how I interpret the text in performance. The biggest difference is breath.

ND: How do your workshops empower and/or equip your students, especially the LGBTQ students, to speak up and act for social change in a world that is often hostile toward them?

LM: Zora Neale Hurston once wrote “The greatest human longing is self-revelation.” I think self-revelation is also the first step toward social change. No matter where we come from or how we love, our stories of survival—if told confidently and compellingly—have the potential to wake minds and open hearts. My workshops are about moving marginalized voices to the center. I incorporate improvisational theater exercises so participants can feel comfortable in their bodies and start to take creative risks. I encourage students to write and perform with self-awareness, self-care and collective consciousness. I hope they’ll leave the experience walking a little taller. Whether it feels ready for us or not, the world needs the tall walkers.

ND: Is it easier to reach out, to connect to them, when they’re younger?

LM: My goal is to create a safe space for students of any age to be both intentionally silly and intentionally fierce. When I work with teenagers, I want them to take their creativity seriously. When I work with adults, I want them to feel younger—to play like children.

ND: According to your website, you’re a “brew full of womanist Vodou jazz, queer theory hip-hop, humor, power and movement.” Were you born a poet or were you molded into one?

LM: Poetry and theatre are my practice and my calling. I continue to study Vodou, jazz, hip-hop, feminism, post-modernism and other cultural movements because they have made my work possible. I’m not a traditionalist, but I have an aesthetic inheritance. I rock stages because stages were rocked before me.

ND: You have a big week of workshops and open mike performances while in Miami. Tell us what you have planned for your Jan. 14 performance at Books & Books.

LM: I’ll share poems and performance essays about the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality and culture. I’ll tell funny, deep and surprising stories about compassion. I’ll talk about women, I’ll talk about Haiti. There’s even a poem about Michael Jackson. It’s going to be a good time! See you there.

SPEAKOUT YOUTH EVENTS Jan. 10-14, 2011, sponsored by Miami Beach Regional Library, Pridelines, Safe Schools South Florida and the Gay Straight Alliances at Miami-Dade Public Schools. For information and to participate call Tigertail at 305-324-4337 or visit www.tigertail.org. Lenelle Moïse Performance, Books & Books, Friday, Jan. 14, 8 p.m., 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. Free.