Q&A With Artist jessica Care moore
Poet, playwright, performance artist and producer jessica Care moore is truly a daughter of Detroit. From open mic nights to winning the variety show “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” five times in a row, she has blazed her own trail as an internationally renowned artist whose path has since wound its way back home to the city she loves.
In her Pure Michigan poem, “I Am Detroit Summer,” she captures the fragments of memories that remain with her. Here she shares more about how her past has shaped who she is today.
From your earliest performances on “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” to your Pure Michigan poem “I Am Detroit Summer” – you have such stage presence. How did you develop that?
I was on “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” back in 1995, and I was terrified. I won five weeks in a row and I cried after each one. But I came from Detroit where we didn’t have the privilege of having dozens of coffeehouses to read poetry. I had to find spaces that weren’t traditional spaces. So by the time [I was in the Apollo Theater] at age 22, there was this sense that I could perform everywhere.
How did you discover your voice?
I went to a predominately white Catholic school from first to eighth grade, and I was much quieter. For high school, I went to a Detroit public school, Frank Cody High School where everything opened up. I was able to step into who I was in a deeper way. Both experiences shaped me, but I was able to find a voice at Cody.
How was it going from a private Catholic school to a Detroit public high school?
It was a huge culture shock. It changed my life. I was this dreamy, nerdy little poet – I'm so grateful to that black box theater at Cody. In fact, I just received the Legend Award at the Come Home Alumni Hall from the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Where do you find the space to write?
At home, in hotel rooms, on planes. I need the world around me to be still because my mind moves fast, and I talk a million miles a minute. My home is a place of peace, my personal sanctuary.
Do you type or handwrite?
Both. I do more personal writing in my journal. But when I’m writing my book, I'm inside of Google Docs like everyone else.
Being from Detroit has influenced your work. What do you tell someone who hasn’t been to Detroit or has assumptions about it?
I grew up here, I made it, I moved back here. My son was only 10 months old when I came back to Detroit. I was looking for all the things that people with children are looking for: safety, schools, good places to eat. In Detroit you can have all of those things, and you can have a community. As I say in my poem, “We are a community connected by neighborhoods.”
What do you recommend that people do when they visit Detroit?
My friends from the suburbs say, “jessica, we don’t know where to go.” They only know Tigers stadium or where the Red Wings play, but we have to get people comfortable with getting away from those spaces. Come in early, come find a local restaurant. Not everything is downtown. In the first lines of my poem, “I Am Detroit Summer,” I say “Back of my daddy’s Cadillac. Top down. Cruising up East Jefferson.” When I was growing up, everything was in the neighborhoods.
What are some of your favorite local spots?
The Spot Light is a really special space on the east side. It’s an art gallery and coffee shop by day and a club at night. Everyone is there – it’s a very special place. If you’re going to talk about New Detroit, I want it to look like that.
Where do you like to visit outside of Detroit?
I’m a Black woman poet who has experienced the state, and I feel connected to the land. Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes is one of my favorite quiet places. Idlewild, a historically Black area, is also high on the list, where there’s such peace and serenity. In Traverse City, I enjoy the coffee shops and bookstores.
How can we invite more people to experience Detroit authentically?
We are a prideful city; we love our city. If you have intention and heart, Detroit folks are going to say hello. Remember who made this city great, remember who built it and don’t leave them behind.