by Lisa Edge
Monique Franklin is a multi-disciplinary artist and self-described performance introvert. Her exposure to the arts began as a toddler under the guidance of her mother, who led family plays in the living room of their Rainier Valley home. Music spoke to Franklin first, followed by dance. 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.
“It wasn’t until I hit my teenage years, and life got complex as teenage years do. And I started writing,” Franklin shared. “I started journaling, and that was my entry into poetry, writing poetry as journal entries. And I did that for many, many years and never shared my poetry with anyone.”
She kept those pages of poems and drawings to herself until meeting the late Negesti Abebech, a local artist who offered positive feedback. It would take still more time before Franklin shared her poetry with an audience at Shoreline Community College. She’s had countless performances since then, perfecting her craft along the way. If you see her perform, there will likely be a live band on stage with her. It’s a preference in part because music is an inspiration in and out of the spotlight.
“Live music just puts me in the room with my creativity immediately. I love the opportunity to write in a space that other people are holding open for that,” she explained. “When musicians are playing, especially when they’re jamming, they’re creating in that moment, and that portal is just open.”
Franklin’s bond with the two — live music and poetry — recently came to life at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in her show Mama’z Muezz. The moving one-woman show centered on motherhood, and the original score matched the tone and intensity of Franklin’s poetry..
“Oftentimes, motherhood becomes this all-consuming experience,” Franklin said. “People cease to see you as an individual person. You cease to see yourself as an individual person who had other ideas, and dreams, and existences prior to becoming a mother. Or to have them at the same time that you are a mother or to have those after you lived a certain bit of motherhood.”
Franklin explores her own life as a Black woman and as a mother. Throughout the play, lines such as “motherhood is a mirror” resonated with the audience.
She didn’t shy away from the pain and trauma Black people have experienced from slavery to the death of George Floyd. Instead, Franklin artistically presented these complex topics to the audience and incorporated historical vantage points by delivering fictional monologues based on Ida B. Wells, Mamie Till, and Alice Walker.
“What I’m hoping the play brings about is self-reflection, healing, and self-actualization. One of the things that I believe that motherhood can offer is a very sharpening of the senses,” Franklin said. “Especially on top of Blackness … there’s the old adage of ‘you gotta be ten times as good as others’ in order to make the same level of progress. And I think motherhood adds another layer of sharpen to that.”
Mama’z Muezz reinforces the titles bestowed on Franklin, who is also known as Verbal Oasis. The titles include “The unofficial poet laureate of South Seattle,” “The Billie Holiday of spoken word,” and “High Priestess of prose, poetry, and the art of storytelling.”
When she’s not on stage, Franklin is busy running Inspired Child, an arts organization. She’s a teaching artist and curator of events for families, and her art in the park program for kids ran uninterrupted for ten years before COVID-19.
In the future, she envisions Mama’z Muezz becoming a consistent project traveling from city to city to share with other mothers and communities at large. Her next project includes an Inspired Child musical.
Franklin is a long way from those family plays in the living room of her childhood home. She’s gone from learning how to make puppets and sing Silent Night to holding the rapt attention of a large audience. Creativity is an integral part of her life; thankfully, she’s sharing it with all of us.
“I want to create spaces where our whole community can show up. And our whole community can be in community and elevate together, and develop together, and share with one another,” Franklin said. “I’ve created shows or been part of shows that really set out to achieve that.”
Lisa Edge is an award-winning reporter who most recently covered the arts for Real Change. In 2013 she relocated to Seattle after working as a reporter and anchor at several television stations in the south. Lisa most enjoys telling stories about people and how they are making an impact with their voices.
📸 Featured Image: Monique Franklin (courtesy of Monique Franklin)
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