P&W-funded Kamilah Aisha Moon currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books). A recipient of fellowships to the Prague Summer Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center, Moon's work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including the Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou’wester, Oxford American, Lumina, Callaloo, Villanelles, Gathering Ground, and the Ringing Ear. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Medgar Evers College-CUNY, Drew University, and Adelphi University. Moon holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.
A book launch can feel much like the beloved jazz classic, “Night in Tunisia,” written by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli. In the song, seemingly disparate notes fall into a stunning syncopation, creating a thrilling groove and refrain that gains momentum each time it's played—with each part shining in turn, as well as building together, into crescendos of emotion. This style of improvisation married with exquisite skill and rhythms energizes the heartbeats underneath the beats that are melded with the lush harmonies of the performers and the audience—it pulses love, love, love.
Who knew that a book launch party could feel and be like this?! I didn't, especially before 7 PM on Friday, November 8. The day began with a medley of mishaps and logistical mix-ups—chief among them being that my sisters, flying in from Chicago for the program, were stuck in the airport and kept getting delayed. Unexpected obligations and last-minute details caused stress and anxiety. I've been told these things are inevitable, and that there's a reason we have the adage regarding “the best laid plans of mice and men.”
Fortunately, the outcome wasn't a disaster; in fact, quite the opposite was true. Friends stepped up to lend their hands, their knowledge, and their resources. Beautiful surprises and generous gestures gave us what we needed: The chairs and tables were set up, the food was spread out, and the wine was poured. Beautiful faces flowed in from childhood friends, colleagues, mentors, founders and directors of writing organizations, curators, publishers, poets, artists of all disciplines, former and current students, family members, and friends of friends I met for the first time. Everyone was a distinguished guest.
The night was cool and clear, and the New York City skyline—with two of its majestic bridges visible—glistened beyond the enormous windows of Rachel Eliza Griffiths' new studio, Dumbo Sky. You couldn't ask for a more gracious host. Writer and performer Samantha Thornhill elegantly guided us through the program. It began with the gorgeous voice and brilliance of Karma Mayet Johnson who sang “Little Sparrow,” leading the audience in song above the churning river. What a treat to hear Tina Chang movingly interpret two of my poems and welcome me to our press, Four Way Books. Paul Lisicky responded to a line in one of my poems with his usual grounded grace that reaches into the heart, and Joan Larkin shared vivid, thought-provoking word portraits for us all to consider. Tyehimba Jess brought his unforgettable brand of witnessing, including a poem about Blind Tom, an autistic piano virtuoso during the slavery era. Ross Gay's wonder and revelations charged the room too—including a humorous moment when the doorbell rang at the precise moment he mentioned cathedral chimes in the middle of a deeply poignant poem. Aracelis Girmay spoke from the heart in the beautiful language she is becoming legendary for, and shattered me in the best way with a poem written for the occasion. Then, after viewing the two exquisite book shorts she created for this book projected onto the wall, Rachel Eliza Griffiths introduced me like no one else has—our friendship the greatest gift from my graduate school experience at Sarah Lawrence College.
To say I was overcome is a vast understatement. I was humbled and honored that so many people from most of the communities and institutions I've known were all in one room. To look out into the sea of faces and see years of experiences and joy embodied in the flesh just blew me away. So did the dancing, signing, well-wishes and endless hugs that followed. When writers gather for an occasion, it is golden. I say this also thinking of the beautiful tributes just a few months earlier at a filled-to-capacity Poets House, remembering and celebrating poet Kurt Brown, now on the other side of the sun.
Oh, these moments where we twirl and shine together! Thanks to all who came—I wish I could list every name here. I'll never forget, and I look forward to attending the next reading, the next event, the next beautifully shared moment. How fortunate we all are to have this way of engaging with life as writers and artists, and to have each other. Like the ultimate jazz song, everyone has solos within the grand melody, everyone is backed by the others, everyone makes the song complete.
Photo: Kamilah Aisha Moon. Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.