Kamilah Aisha Moon won the 25th Annual Agnes Scott Writers’ Festival contest in Poetry in 1997. Since then, she’s established herself as a serious and published poet, and now is returning to Agnes Scott this fall as an instructor. Kamilah will join the ASC English Department as an Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing. She looks forward to “working with amazing young women and contributing to the vibrant intellectual and creative community of the college.” Congratulations, Professor, and we look forward to seeing you in the fall!
What is your history with Agnes Scott?
I did not attend Agnes Scott as a student. I completed my B.A. in English at Paine College in Augusta, GA. I saw an advertisement about the statewide creative writing competition held yearly at Agnes Scott for undergraduate students and sent a poetry application for consideration. I received news that I was a finalist and drove to this beautiful, stately campus for the awards ceremony. It was a wonderful surprise to win! Not only did it bolster my confidence as a young writer, the award money allowed me to attend my first international writing conference at NYU two months later. This formative experience in 1997 gave me permission to pursue my writing fully and explore the ideas of scholarship and teaching literature as a profession. It feels like a full circle moment to return to this campus as a poetry professor exactly 20 years later.
What has been your experience with the Festival? Which piece did you win with?
The first place win at Agnes Scott was the first major recognition for my writing. I had published a few poems in college and community literary journals, but to receive a cash award and expert advice from judges who were established writers inspired me to seriously continue in the discipline. I won for a set of three poems. “Tough Love” was a poem about two close roommates of different backgrounds having a hard conversation about the phrase ‘I don’t see color.’ “Me and My Friends Circa 1981” was a fond recollection of an inner city neighborhood and the innocence of its children before crime took over. “An Afternoon at the Mall” was about a store clerk profiling shoppers of color as they shopped. These poems were definitely rough around the edges, so I’m grateful that the judges saw through the coal dust and recognized the diamond potential in a young writer.
What parts of the writing process do you most enjoy?
I love when inspiration compels me to stop what I’m doing and write. Over the years, I’ve learned to surrender to play, to write with abandon and turn off the internal editor for the initial draft so that I allow everything to make it to the page uncensored. So many gems are found within those first impulses to articulate experience, to experiment with language in ways that get us closer to meaning and illuminate the ineffable. I am grateful to be seized by an idea—to look up and realize that I haven’t moved for hours, need a meal and day has turned into night.
What parts do you still struggle with?
I think most emerging writers struggle with refining work. But I truly appreciate the revision process now more than ever. I think the key is patience. I will put a poem or an essay away for an extended period of time so that I can return to it with new eyes. Sometimes I have to live more life to know what a piece needs. I will say a line out loud over and over again until the rhythm and meter feel effortless. I will employ syntax in unconventional ways for greater impact; or scale down a diatribe to its essential concern or question unadorned so that a reader can’t turn away from it.
What advice do you have for emerging writers and artists?
Strive to be an endless apprentice and stay open to new ideas, but also trust your instincts and take risks. When someone else’s advice is germane to your project’s vision, deeply consider it. Run toward the projects and opportunities that scare you the most; turn fear into fuel and welcome challenges.