Alumna Poet Explores Jazz Singer Nina Simone, and Herself, in New Book

January 13, 2012

Monica A. Hand ’75 is a poet and book artist who is investigating a nomadic lifestyle as a strategy for economic, political, spiritual and artistic survival. Her manuscript—me and Nina—received a 2010 Kinereth Gensler Award and was released this month by Alice James Books. "In me and Nina, Hand depicts, as (jazz singer) Nina Simone did, what it is to be gifted and Black in America. She shifts dynamically through voices and forms homemade, received and re-imagined to conjure the music (and Muses) of art and experience. This is a debut fiercely illuminated by declaration and song," says reviewer Terrance Hayes. "I have always felt sameness with Nina Simone—her sadness, her anger, her restlessness, her alienation, and her super sensitivity, her refusing to be named," Hand is quoted in a blog. "I saw her first as a woman, a lonely woman. I also felt her rage. It was only later after I was well into the project that I realized her activism and that she—her music and her life—represented so much more." Hand's poems have appeared in numerous publications including Naugatuck River Review, The Sow’s Ear, Drunken Boat, and Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade. She earned an M.F.A. in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University and is a founding member of Poets for Ayiti. Read more about her book. "I attended Arcadia when it was still known as Beaver College," says Hand, who now lives in Harlem. "I was among the first group of students to participate in the exchange program with Hong Kong University and attended the London program the second semester of that same year. I still love to travel and have been to Germany, Barcelona, France, Switzerland, Singapore, and just this past summer I attended a month-long writing seminar in Greece. "I loved my English and Theater Arts professors, and I believe the honors colloquium program I participated in at Beaver has a lot to do with how I see the world: I always see both sides of an issue and embrace finding the complexities in ideas and people. I still think of the colloquium on "Art and Society" and the question of creating art for art's sake or art that is concerned with social issues. I've always leaned towards the latter. It was at Beaver that I was introduced to writers who are still some of my great influencers like Richard Wright and James Joyce. While at Beaver I directed and acted in the Dutchman by LeRoi Jones and played Adam in As You Like It, and Sukey Tawdry in The Three Penny Opera. My big lead role was as Hecuba in Trojan Women. I also published short stories in the Literary Magazine. I just retired from a career in corporate communications and public relations for the U.S. Postal Service. My true passion is poetry, and my debut book of poems will be released this month from Alice James Press."

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