by Lisa Edge
Monique Franklin is a multidisciplinary artist who describes herself as a performance introvert. Her exposure to the arts began as a child under the guidance of her mother, who conducted family plays in the living room of their Rainier Valley home. Music spoke to Franklin first, followed by dancing. She has fond memories of dancing on a mini trampoline while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. Next was the written word.
âIt wasn’t until I hit my teens and life got as complex as being a teenager. And I started to write, âFranklin explained. âI started journaling, and that was my entry into poetry, writing poetry in journal entry form. And I did that for many, many years and never shared my poetry with anyone.
She kept these pages of poems and drawings to herself until she met the late Negesti Abebech, a local artist who offered positive feedback. It would take even longer before Franklin shared his poetry with an audience at Shoreline Community College. She has had countless performances since then, perfecting her craft along the way. If you see her performing, there will probably be a live band on stage with her. It’s a preference in part because the music is an inspiration in and out of the limelight.
âLive music immediately puts me in the room with my creativity. I love the opportunity to write in a space that other people keep open for it, âshe explained. âWhen musicians are playing, especially when they are playing, they’re creating at that point, and that portal is just open. “
Franklin’s connection to the two – live music and poetry – was recently brought to life at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in his show Mama’z Muezz. The moving one-woman show centered around motherhood, and the original score matched the tone and intensity of Franklin’s poetry.
âA lot of times motherhood becomes that all-consuming experience,â Franklin said. âPeople stop seeing you as an individual person. You stop seeing yourself as an individual person who had other ideas, dreams, and existences before you became a mother. Or to have them at the same time as you are a mother or to have them after having lived a certain motherhood. “
Franklin explores her own life as a black woman and a mother. Throughout the play, phrases such as “motherhood is a mirror” resonated with the audience.
She did not shy away from the pain and trauma black people suffered from slavery upon the death of George Floyd. Instead, Franklin artistically presented these complex subjects to the audience and incorporated historical perspectives by delivering fictional monologues based on Ida B. Wells, Mamie Till, and Alice Walker.
âWhat I hope the play brings about is self-reflection, healing and self-realization. One of the things that I believe motherhood can offer is a sharpening of the senses, âFranklin said. âEspecially on top of Blacknessâ¦ there’s the old adage of ‘you have to be ten times better than others’ to make the same level of progress. And I think motherhood adds another layer of sharpness to that.
Mama’z Muezz reinforces the titles attributed to Franklin, also known as the Verbal Oasis. Titles include “The Unofficial South Seattle Poet Laureate”, “The Billie Holiday of Oral Creation” and “High Priestess of Prose, Poetry, and the Art of Storytelling”.
When not on stage, Franklin is busy running Inspired Child, an arts organization. She is an artist-teacher and curator of family events, and her art program in the park for children ran non-stop for ten years before COVID-19.
In the future, she is considering Mama’z Muezz become a cohesive project traveling from city to city to share with other mothers and communities in general. His next project includes an Inspired Child musical.
Franklin is far from those family rooms in the living room of his childhood home. She went from learning how to make puppets and singing Silent Night to capturing the attention of a large audience. Creativity is an integral part of his life; luckily, she shares it with all of us.
âI want to create spaces where our whole community can come forward. And our whole community can be in community and grow together, grow together and share with one another, âFranklin said. âI created shows or was part of shows that really sought to achieve this goal. “
Lisa Bord is an award-winning journalist who recently covered the arts for Real change. In 2013, she moved to Seattle after working as a reporter and presenter for several southern TV stations. Lisa especially enjoys telling stories about people and how they impact their voices.
?? Featured Image: Monique Franklin (courtesy Monique Franklin)
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