Moore, Jessica Care 1971–
Jessica Care Moore 1971–
Partly under the influence of hip-hop music, with its often ambitious aims and its strong spoken-word component, the ancient art of poetry began in the 1990s to enjoy a renaissance among American young people, particularly in the African-American community. In coffeehouses, schools, bookstores, and clubs in urban America there arose a new brand of poetry, oriented toward the spoken word and drawing on deep well-springs in the African-American and African tradition of oral literature but possessing as well a complexity and subtlety that connected it with traditions of written poetry by African Americans and others. Jessica Care moore(her preferred spelling) is one of the most successful and charismatic of this new group of young black poets. Perhaps equally important, she is also the most enterprising of the group; as a publisher and entrepreneur, she has done much to create a new poetry community in African America.
Moore was born in Detroit on October 28, 1971. Detroit is more known for automobiles and for popular music than for its writing scene, but she was exposed to poetry as a student at the city’s Cody High School. She attended Michigan State University in Lansing and Wayne State University in Detroit, writing for campus newspapers at both schools, but her first experience placing her poetry before a group came later. “I didn’t start reading out loud to strangers until ’94,” she told the Cincinnati City Beat. ” My dad passed and I read a poem and people were very impressed by that.”
In her early twenties, Moore landed a job as a news writer at Detroit’s Fox television network outlet and began looking for places where she could read her poetry in the evening. At an appearance at the Pour me Café in downtown Detroit, she met members of the durable spoken-word group, The Last Poets, who had also influenced various hip-hop artists. She also impressed the cafe’s owners, who ran a nearby hair salon and invited Moore to perform at some of the city’s hair style expositions.
Moore’s success with this difficult audience bolstered her confidence that she could win the attention of hearers unfamiliar with her work, and in 1995 she set out for New York City in a pickup truck with $700 to her name. Keeping herself afloat as a reporter with a community newspaper in Brooklyn, she met local members of a growing cafe poetry scene. A producer for the nationally distributed Showtime at the Apollo television program heard one of her readings and that led to a chance to appear on the show’s amateur-night segment in October of 1995.
Poetry was something new and different for Showtime at the Apollo. “I was terrified,” Moore told Essence. But she came out in the top spot on the show’s weekly talent competition for five weeks in a row. Moore continued to gain exposure in New York and built a strong following among poetry lovers. She appeared in the film Slam, which was set in the world of spoken poetry and in the Madison Square Garden musical
At a Glance…
Born Jessica Care Moore on October 28, 1971, in Detroit, Ml. Married: Sharrif Simmons, a poet; one son, Omari. Education: Michigan State University, attended; Wayne State University, attended.
Career: Poet and publisher. Wrote for student newspapers at Michigan State and Wayne State; WJBK-TV, Detroit, news writer, early 1990s; read poetry at Detroit venues, 1994; moved to New York, 1995; appeared on Showtime at the Apollo’s Amateur Night television program, 1995; started own publishing company, Moore Black Press, 1997; published volume of own poetry, The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth, 1997; published works by other poets; moved to Atlanta and expanded operations to include cafe and bookstore, 2000; led band, Detroit Read, late 1990s-; wrote play, There Are No Asylums for the Real Crazy Women; published The Alphabet Verses the Ghetto, 2001.
Addresses: Home —Atlanta, C.A. Agent —c/o Papillon Public Relations & Artist Development, 20019 Manor, Detroit, Ml 48221.
But publication opportunities eluded her, and for a woman who considers herself “a revolutionary writer” (as she told the Michigan Chronicle) rather than simply a “slam poet,” that was frustrating. “I’m a writer just like T.S. Eliot was a writer,” she told the Village Voice. I come from Sonia [Sanchez], from Ntozake [Shange], Nikki [Giovanni]. But I also come from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.” She explained her not getting published by saying the industry is racist and trapped in old-fashioned conceptions of poetry.
Moore knew from her interactions with audiences that a strong demand existed for her own work and that of other writers in her circle. So in 1997, investing $5,000 of her own money, she started her own publishing company, Moore Black Press. “I’m into showing force, “she told the Voice. And that’s what the company is about, not just showing me, but who we are: We’re poets. We’re here. And we don’t need validation from anybody.” One of the press’s first releases was a volume of Moore’s own work, The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth. Another poet featured in Moore’s catalogue was Sharrif Simmons, who became Moore’s husband and the father of her son, Omari.
“I’ve heard stories about Langston [pioneer black poet Langston Hughes] selling his books out of his car, and I’ve done the same thing,” Moore recalled in a conversation with the Michigan Chronicle. But Moore Black Press was a success from the start. The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth sold 20,000 copies, and Moore followed it up with a timely collection, The Poetry of Emcees: A Comprehensive Anthology of Hip-Hop Generation Writers Known to Rock the Pen. By the year 2000, Essence reported, Moore was earning in excess of $50,000 a year—a handsome sum for any poet.
Moore continued to write prolifically. Her poetry, free yet subtle in rhythm and full of unexpected turns: “I keep falling in love/with potential But it never seems to work out/He was full of a lot of it/And he was TALL,” Moore wrote in “I’m in love with potential.” She continued to gain new fans, and a second volume of her own work, The Alphabet Verses the Ghetto, was slated for release in the summer of 2001. Moore fronted a band called Detroit Read (as in “I have read”) that evoked the 1970s marriage of spoken poetry and music that was one of hip-hop’s immediate ancestors; she also wrote and performed a one-woman play, There Are No Asylums for the Real Crazy Women, which depicted the life of Vivienne Eliot, wife of the famed American-British poet T.S. Eliot. In the year 2000 Moore moved to Atlanta and expanded her literary empire to include a cafe and a bookstore, MoorEpics: A Poetry Planet.
A sign of Moore’s growing recognition came when she was invited to perform at the U.S. Comedy Festival, as part of a “Def Poetry Jam” organized by the wildly successful hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. By 2001 her poetry had appeared in such publications as Essence, Blaze, African Voices, and Black Elegance, many of them not known for publishing poetry. “I don’t sleep,” she told the Michigan Chronicle that year. “It’s my own fault.” And indeed the career trajectory of this woman who had helped revivify that art of African-American poetry seemed limited only by her own store of energy.
The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth, Moore Black Press, 1997.
The Alphabet Verses the Ghetto, Moore Black Press, 2001.
Daily News (New York), October 6, 1997, p. 29.
Essence, May 2000, p. 209; October 2000, p. 104.
Michigan Chronicle, February 27, 2001, p. A4.
New York Times, February 11, 1997, p. C11.
Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, p. 17.
Village Voice, February 17, 1998, p. 61.
City Beat, (Cincinnati, OH), http://www.citybeat.com/archives/2000/issue634/onstagearticle1.shtml
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Papillon Public Relations & Artist Development press release.
—James M. Manheim
"Moore, Jessica Care 1971–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/moore-jessica-care-1971
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