Inspired by Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Others
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — “I wanted to use this book to convey that ‘unsteadiness’ is normal and can lend itself to self-discovery and limitless creativity.”
So says Monique Ferrell about her new book, Unsteady, a collection of poems and dramatic monologues just published by NYQ Books. The 24 pieces in the collection examine the social, cultural, political and gender issues that affect her as a student of life, a woman and a person of color.
“In these pieces, I seek to take on the voices of people like Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker — permanent fixtures on the conscience of America,” she explains. “But, I also use these monologues to give voice to a person like Lashaundra Armstrong, the mother of five who drove herself and her five children into the Hudson River last spring.”
An associate professor of English at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), Ferrell further explains the book’s title this way: “Maybe it’s the Buddhist in me, but everything about the world I live in, and everything that has informed who I’ve become, matters now more than ever.
“My grandmother’s stories, music, politics, ‘celebutants,’ our violent and beautiful world — thinking about these kinds of things can make you feel ‘unsteady,’ as they can be as off-putting as they are enlightening. I believe the book also celebrates the importance of writing things down.”
“Limitless creativity” is a good way of describing the whirl of activity Ferrell, a Fort Greene resident, finds herself in now. She is putting the finishing touches on a short fiction collection, called Impetus, and is working on a book of feminist criticism titled Her Own Worst Enemy: The Eternal Internal Gender Wars of Our Sisters.
Impetus contains nine inter-connected mini-novellas. “The primary characters are all women who are facing fork-in-the-road moments in their respective lives,” Ferrell notes. “They are murderers, vigilantes, political advocates, teachers, kidnappers, mothers, sisters and daughters.”
Her book of feminist criticism, which will be published by Kendall Hunt, will examine ways in which women have been the oppressive hand in the lives of other women with respect to politics, religion, popular culture and literature.
But before these two books are released, Ferrell will see the publication of the second edition of her book Good Writing Made Simple (co-authored with her City Tech colleagues Julian Williams and Mark Noonan) and the third edition of Lead, Follow, or Move Out the Way: Global Perspectives in Literature (co-edited with Willams). The latter book is being used at 11 different colleges and high schools across the country.
Ferrell — who was born and raised in the Lafayette Gardens Projects — dedicates Unsteady to the memory of the poet Ai, who was her professor, mentor and friend. “During my graduate studies, she challenged me to develop my own style of writing; she allowed me to play with form and language as a means of cultivating a voice that was uniquely my own,” she says.
The cover of Unsteady was designed by one of Ferrell’s former students, Patricia Jade Persaud, who will be receiving her bachelor’s degree in communication design from City Tech next spring.
For the past eight years, Ferrell has taught composition, literature (including a Native American literature class) and creative writing courses at City Tech. She is currently developing a new course for the English department, “Women, Violence and Victimization.”
In addition to the previously mentioned books, Ferrell is the author of Black Body Parts (poetry). Her work has appeared in such journals as North American Review, Antioch Review and Puerto Del Sol, among others.