Recently, historians have taken a fresh look at the women’s suffrage movement, which culminated in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment. They found that the movement to give women the right to vote was just as plagued with racism as other parts of American society.  

In her spoken word performance at the Indianapolis Artsgarden on Friday, Feb. 28, Manon Voice will highlight African American voices in the suffrage movement like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Harriet Tubman, and Ida B. Wells. 

“We still have to reckon with history,” Manon Voice says. “African American women really struggled and were marginalized. There was a lot of tension between the national suffragist movement that really didn’t want to give African American women that same right that white women had.”

The performance is part of Art & Soul, the celebration of Black History Month presented by the Indianapolis Arts Council. Among those helping Manon deliver this performance will be Krystle Ford, classical musician and director of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. Manon will be accompanied by a string quartet, drums, and bass. 

Manon Voice has become a well-known spoken-word artist in Indianapolis, where she grew up. In addition to being a spoken word artist, she is also a poet, writer, advocate for social justice, educator, and hip-hop emcee who has facilitated art and poetry workshops and has performed all over the country.  

She first encountered poetry in elementary school. 

“It just sort of blew my whole world open,” she says. “It's the same thing like when you hear Ray Charles or Nina Simone say, ‘I sat down at the piano at 4 or 5 years old and I knew that that was my thing. And they just started doing it. It was really the same thing with me with poetry.”

At first, she thought poetry was consigned to the page. 

“I didn't know that you could perform it until I got to college,” she says. “All of my life, I have read poetry. I had written in notebooks what I thought was poetry. Then I got to IU [Bloomington] and there I was at the Black Cultural Center in IU. An artist from Michigan came down and he performed for us what we know as spoken word. I was blown away and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you can do this with poetry?’ But even then, I still didn't think that I was capable of doing that.” 

It wasn’t until a friend running the “All That Jazz” open mic on 10th Street asked her to read, when she eventually gave in and gave it a go.

“I went and I tried it and the audience affirmed me,” says Manon. “I started growing with it and growing with it and growing with it. Because of my passion for social justice, a lot of the things that I cared about in the world started to come through that.” 

She always wants to hold out for the possibility of hope in her poetry.

“Who are we? Where do we come from?” she asks. “Considering that, who can we be? I consider myself to be a poetic journalist reporting on things, talking about things, raising issues but also acting on the deeper questions of our human conscience ...” she says. “Now that we are facing this life, now that we are reckoning with these kinds of issues, who will we decide to be as human beings?”

Recently Manon took part in the Religion, Spirituality, and the Arts Seminar, a program of the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute. The 12 attendees were all artists in a wide range of disciplines. Led by director Rabbi Sandy Sasso, they considered the book of Jonah, the prophet who refused God’s calling before being swallowed, and spit up, by a whale. They then made art inspired by Jonah, as well as commentary on Jonah. On Feb. 20, the group had its opening exhibition and performances at the Jewish Community Center. Manon Voice’s spoken word piece was titled “In here together” and it relates to “the messiness of trying to find one another among individual and collectively imposed walls.”

Manon was also a special guest in the Phoenix Rising Dance Company’s production that premiered in late January, "Nina Simone, High Priestess of Soul." Given wide latitude by the production’s artistic director, Justin Sears Watson, she read 10 of her own poems during the performance.

“I said to Justin, ‘She has a large, prodigious body of work. We could look at the themes of her life, like growing up in the South.’ That was when she first kind of started taking music lessons. She was a prodigy on the piano. She was trying to go to the Curtis Institute of Music. She wanted to be the first black classical pianist in America, but she was denied because of race. She grew into Nina Simone. But she had a very abusive husband who was her manager. I told Justin, ‘I really would love to bring out the narrative and just like not have it be disjointed … and have it really feel like one complete movement where we're telling this story about Nina's life.’”

In May, Manon, as the winner of the Beckmann Emerging Artist Fellowship, plans to go to Turkey to follow in the footsteps of Sufi mystic poet Rumi.

“I'm going to be traveling with Omid Safi, Director of the Islamic Studies Center,” she says. “I'm so excited we're gonna get to go to Rumi's shrine. We're going to get to go to the [shrine] of Shams-i-Tabrīzī.” 

These days, Manon Voice is also excited about the spoken word scene in Indianapolis.

“10 years ago, I remember there were a few key places that people could go to for poetry and spoken word,” she says. “One of them was Midtown. It was a very prominent hub where folks would go. So fast forward to now, there being all kinds of places where people can go hear poetry word rap, even visual arts. Those genres are really mixing and there are a lot more open mics in the city. Definitely, there has been an explosion, I would say, of that.”

 Note: because of the uniqueness of Manon Voice’s name, be it her real or stage name, I chose in a couple of instances to refer to her as “Manon” not Voice, as if it were a last name, which would sound weird

Recently, historians have taken a fresh look at the women’s suffrage movement, which culminated in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment. They found that the movement to give women the right to vote was just as plagued with racism as other parts of American society.  

In her spoken word performance at the Indianapolis Artsgarden on Friday, Feb. 28, Manon Voice will highlight African American voices in the suffrage movement like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Harriet Tubman, and Ida B. Wells. 

“We still have to reckon with history,” Manon Voice says. “African American women really struggled and were marginalized. There was a lot of tension between the national suffragist movement that really didn’t want to give African American women that same right that white women had.”

The performance is part of Art & Soul, the celebration of Black History Month presented by the Indianapolis Arts Council. Among those helping Manon deliver this performance will be Krystle Ford, classical musician and director of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. Manon will be accompanied by a string quartet, drums, and bass. 

Manon Voice has become a well-known spoken-word artist in Indianapolis, where she grew up. In addition, she is also a poet, writer, advocate for social justice, educator, and hip-hop emcee who has facilitated art and poetry workshops and has performed all over the country.  

She first encountered poetry in elementary school. 

“It just sort of blew my whole world open,” she says. “It's the same thing like when you hear Ray Charles or Nina Simone say, ‘I sat down at the piano at 4 or 5 years old and I knew that that was my thing. And they just started doing it. It was really the same thing with me with poetry.”

At first, she thought poetry was consigned to the page. 

“I didn't know that you could perform it until I got to college,” she says. “All of my life, I have read poetry. I had written in notebooks what I thought was poetry. Then I got to IU [Bloomington] and there I was at the Black Cultural Center in IU. An artist from Michigan came down and he performed for us what we know as spoken word. I was blown away and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you can do this with poetry?’ But even then, I still didn't think that I was capable of doing that.” 

Manon Voice at the mic

Manon Voice at the mic

It wasn’t until a friend running the “All That Jazz” open mic on 10th Street asked her to read, when she eventually gave in and gave it a go.

“I went and I tried it and the audience affirmed me,” says Manon. “I started growing with it and growing with it and growing with it. Because of my passion for social justice, a lot of the things that I cared about in the world started to come through that.” 

She always wants to hold out for the possibility of hope in her poetry.

“Who are we? Where do we come from?” she asks. “Considering that, who can we be? I consider myself to be a poetic journalist reporting on things, talking about things, raising issues but also acting on the deeper questions of our human conscience ...” she says. “Now that we are facing this life, now that we are reckoning with these kinds of issues, who will we decide to be as human beings?”

Recently Manon took part in the Religion, Spirituality, and the Arts Seminar, a program of the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute. The 12 attendees were all artists in a wide range of disciplines. Led by director Rabbi Sandy Sasso, they considered the book of Jonah, the prophet who refused God’s calling before being swallowed, and spit up, by a whale. They then made art inspired by Jonah, as well as commentary on Jonah.

On Feb. 20, the group had its opening exhibition and performances at the Jewish Community Center. Manon Voice’s spoken word piece was titled “In here together” and it relates to “the messiness of trying to find one another among individual and collectively imposed walls.”

Manon was also a special guest in the Phoenix Rising Dance Company’s production that premiered in late January, “Nina Simone, High Priestess of Soul.” Given wide latitude by the production’s artistic director, Justin Sears Watson, she read 10 of her own poems during the performance.

“I said to Justin, ‘She has a large, prodigious body of work. We could look at the themes of her life, like growing up in the South.’ That was when she first kind of started taking music lessons. She was a prodigy on the piano. She was trying to go to the Curtis Institute of Music. She wanted to be the first black classical pianist in America, but she was denied because of race. She grew into Nina Simone. But she had a very abusive husband who was her manager. I told Justin, ‘I really would love to bring out the narrative and just like not have it be disjointed … and have it really feel like one complete movement where we're telling this story about Nina's life.’”

Manon Voice in "Nina Simone: The High Priestess of Soul"

Manon Voice in Nina Simone: The High Priestess of Soul.

In May, Manon, as the winner of the Beckmann Emerging Artist Fellowship, plans to go to Turkey to follow in the footsteps of Sufi mystic poet Rumi.

“I'm going to be traveling with Omid Safi, Director of the Islamic Studies Center,” she says. “I'm so excited we're gonna get to go to Rumi's shrine. We're going to get to go to the [shrine] of Shams-i-Tabrīzī.” 

These days, Manon Voice is also excited about the spoken word scene in Indianapolis.

“10 years ago, I remember there were a few key places that people could go to for poetry and spoken word,” she says. “One of them was Midtown. It was a very prominent hub where folks would go. So fast forward to now, there being all kinds of places where people can go hear poetry word rap, even visual arts. Those genres are really mixing and there are a lot more open mics in the city. Definitely, there has been an explosion, I would say, of that.”

 

 

Managing Editor

Having lived and worked in Indy on and off since 1977, and currently living in Carmel, I've seen the city change a great deal. I love covering the arts in all its forms, and the places where the arts and broader cultural issues intersect.