Detroit poet continues to evolve, push herself
Jessica Care Moore is an internationally known poet, publisher, performer and artist. But on many days, the Detroiter is like the rest of us: a single, busy mom trying to fit it all in.
Before noon on a recent weekday, she’s already had a Skype call with a French music producer, done a newspaper interview and is mapping out plans for a mentoring program she leads at Detroit’s Western International High School later that afternoon. In between it all, she got a call from her 11-year-old son, King, an aspiring poet himself. He needed money for the school book fair.
“He’s such a nerd. He said, ‘Mommy, the book fair ends today’ — and he already has two books — ‘but there’s some more books. Can you please come, just come with your credit card?’ ” said Moore, wearing her trademark large earrings, one with a picture of Prince on the front. “That’s where I was.”
Moore likes the busy pace. It keeps things interesting. And she continues to evolve and push herself in new ways more than 20 years after she burst on the national art scene by winning “Live at the Apollo” five times with her poetry, including the poem “Black Statue of Liberty.”
In February, she started teaching a new Black Women Rock course as an equity fellow at Skyline College in San Bruno, California. And on Saturday, she’ll produce her latest Black Women Rock concert, a showcase for emerging black female rock musicians, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Moore, 46, said she imagined the life she now leads. Living on the city’s west side as a young girl, watching friends get shot in their teens, she used her artistry as a way to escape.
“I imagined this life,” she said. “I created it. Because of my vast imagination as just a little girl in Detroit, I was writing myself out of fate.”
Detroit filmmaker Stephen McGee, a longtime collaborator and friend who worked with Moore on the video that was part of Detroit’s failed pitch to lure Amazon for its second headquarters, calls her “the voice of a generation.” The video, for which Moore wrote and voiced the narration, has been shared more than 1.2 million times on social media.
“Without Jessica Care Moore, I don’t think it would’ve been as powerful,” McGee said. “I mean that 100 percent ... She not only plays an important role in Detroit’s narrative, but in the nation’s, specifically in being honest and strong but also connecting communities and cultures.”
Moore continues to push open doors for other female artists, especially black women rock musicians. Moore said they are “invisible” in the industry, so Saturday’s sold-out concert is the “anti-invisible concert,” she said. It will feature musicians such as Mahogany Jones, Jackie Venson and special guest Nona Hendryx.
“No one is filling (the void), so I’m doing it,” Moore said.
“If I said Mary J. Blige, Madonna, Beyoncé, you know who they are — even if you don’t listen to their music,” said Moore, who first started these concerts 14 years ago. “These are women whose music you should know because they’re fantastic and they are forces of nature.”
Jones, a New Yorker who now lives in Detroit and has known Moore since they were both part of the poetry scene in the 1990s, said she’s proud of Moore and how she’s grown “from being the Apollo poet.” Saturday’s concert will mark her first time performing at a Black Women Rock concert, though she’s attended before.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Jones said. “A lot of times as women we are pitted against each other. There’s this quiet, unsilent ‘There’s only enough room for one,’ ” she said. “So to be in a space with so many Alpha women — and we all make room for each other — is amazing.”
Moore’s history is filled with examples of that take-charge attitude. The daughter of a mom who worked at Michigan Bell and a father who owned his own construction company, she’s a product of both parents. Like her mom, she loved reading as a kid. She quickly devoured books by authors such as V.C. Andrews.
“My mom was always reading memoirs and biographies,” said Moore, who has three siblings and four step-siblings.
And like her father, Thomas Moore, she’s always wanted to be her own boss. He died in 1994.
“His independent spirit lives through me,” she said. “I’m not good at working for people. I’m good at working with people. Clocking in for someone else’s dream is not my thing.”
Moore was actually on her way into a career in journalism — interning for Detroit’s Channel 50 — when her life took a major detour. After traveling to see a cousin graduate from New York University, she decided that’s where she needed to be.
“I packed up my stuff and moved and immersed myself in the poetry scene,” she said.
A producer friend at the Apollo Theater, who saw her perform in New York, convinced her to read her poems and try out. She got a spot on the show and won five nights in a row before the show retired her.
Moore’s voice is even more well-known these days after McGee’s “Detroit. Move Here. Move the world” three-minute video.
Moore said she was at a conference in Atlanta last year when she got a call from McGee, asking her to write something for the video. He only gave her the words “Move Here. Move the World,” and in a matter of minutes she wrote a draft, recorded an audio file on her phone and sent it. “It was so funny how that came together because I knew nothing about Amazon,” she said. “I thought it was just going to be for a meeting.”
It may have been quick, but the response was strong. The video went viral.
“People on Twitter were like ‘I want to come to Detroit,’ ‘You changed everything I think about Detroit,’ ‘You made me feel such pride,’ ” said Moore, who also credits McGee for his beautiful images. “I mean every line of that (video). It’s something I believe.”
But even with the big response, it’s the one-on-one experiences Moore has had with her fans that stays with her the most.
“I had a student in my lap at Skyline, crying, saying ‘I thought I had breast cancer. Your poems helped me get through,’ ” Moore said.
While her work continues to draw her to other places around the globe, the city’s pull remains.
“Even when I came to New York in ’95, I’d have to correct people who thought I was a New York poet. I was like, ‘No, I’m from Detroit,’ ” said Moore, who has an old English “D” tattooed on her arm. “Being from Detroit made me different. I wasn’t trying to be a New York poet. I was happy being (who I was).”
Black Women Rock
8 p.m. Saturday (sold out)
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
315 E. Warren, Detroit
Performers: Mahogany Jones, Jackie Venson, SATE, CeCe Peniston, Ideeyah, Sylvia Black, Guitar Gabby of the Tulips Band and special guest Nona Hendryx.
Free “Sunday Sisterfere” gathering from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday with vendors market, panel discussions.