Lenelle Moïse: An Interview with the Playwright
Lenelle Moïse can trace her origins as an artist as early as the fifth grade. The multi-hyphenated artist who writes, records and paints, was asked by her friend Atisha to write a love poem for a guy she was dating. Mother Moise stumbled upon the torrid love letter and thought that her beloved Lenelle was secretly dating, for certain a Haitian mother’s worst nightmare! An intense, near Guantanamo Bay-caliber, child-terrifying interrogation—that only Haitian mothers can conduct—followed.
From that traumatizing experience, Lenelle, the poet and wordsmith started to take shape. If her mother could be convinced that she was in love with some boy, just from a few words her imagination had inspired her to write on behalf of a friend, there must be something to her writing! Clearly, the girl had talent.
Moïse went on to pursue her passion, earning a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from Smith College. Her playwriting has won various honors, one of the first major ones being the prestigious James Baldwin Playwriting contest. Most recently she’s been the recipient of the Ruby Prize for Merit, one of her original creations. A collection of Moïse’s poems entitled Haiti Glass, will be published two years from now. She’s also doing edits on a six-character play that she says is “about academia, isolation, sex and integrity”.
You wrote a film at 20. Yes, I co-wrote Sexual Dependency with Bolivian filmmaker Rodrigo Bellot. It’s a feature-length about how the media affects adolescent identities across cultures. We collaborated when we were both undergrads at Ithaca College. The film is divided into five sections. I wrote section four, “Mirrors.”
You earned an MFA in Playwriting from Smith College. If you had to do it all over again, would you go the fine arts route? Definitely. I needed to formally study theatre, to refine my writing style and to build professional confidence.
As a recording artist you released The Expatriate Amplification Project. I wrote a two-woman play called Expatriate. The characters, Claudie and Alphine, are soul mates and musicians. Claudie is a creative force. She’s very disciplined but repressed. Alphine is a sizzling wild-child, born to be a star. The Expatriate Amplification Project is a studio recording of the music I composed for the play. I sing with my Off-Broadway costar Karla Mosley. She hits the sparkly high notes, I caress the earthy low notes. Everything you hear is created with our breath, voices, snapping fingers and two loop machines.
Do you find that your identity as an individual born in the United States to Haitian parents, affects your art? Actually, I was born in Port-Au-Prince. I moved to the U.S. when I was a toddler. My family lived in Brooklyn, Fort Lauderdale and Cambridge–cities with significant Haitian-American populations. I find that I often write about bi-cultural identity and displacement. I’m also inspired by the aesthetics of Haitian Vodou–the vévé drawings, the altars, the poly-rhythms, the ritual, and oral tradition. My writing is sound-based. Haiti also comes up in my newest one-woman show, Ache What Make, which reflects on a disaster, diaspora, distance, and death-defying love.
Of all the poems you’ve written, which one would you say is the most personal? Forgive me, but I wouldn’t say.
What were some of your inspirations early on, or rather who? When I was a child, my mother regularly took me to the Strand Theatre in Boston. There, I saw Boukan Ginen, Emeline Michel and Manno Charlemagne. When I was ten years old, I started reading Alice Walker, Euripides and Matt Groening. Hearing Nina Simone taught me how to love my own deep voice.
Now, as an all-around artist, you’ve written everything from poetry and you also are involved in creating visual art. There must be some forms of art that you enjoy creating in more than others. I try not to compartmentalize my creative impulses. I use every tool I have to tell stories: my pen, my eyes, my arms, my voice. I make collages to meditate and to overcome writing blocks. It’s all enjoyable.