Sarah Jones

[POET/ACTRESS/PLAYWRIGHT]

“IF I WRITE SOMETHING AND PUT IT OUT THERE FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION, YOU CAN BE PRETTY SURE THAT IT’S A REFLECTION OF WHO I AM AND WHAT I THINK IS IMPORTANT.”
Tips for aspiring poets:
Low-budget means low-budget
Audience members deserve more credit
Work with people you admire
Leather pants may be unnecessary

The Brooklyn Moon Café—the epicenter of a renaissance in spoken-word poetry—was packed wall-to-wall every Friday night during the mid-1990s. The unassuming restaurant and lounge hosted a weekly open mic for poets, some of whom would eventually go on to produce albums, books, and movies: young, gifted, and black poets like muMs (of HBO’s Oz), Saul Williams (of the Rick Rubin-produced Amethyst Rock Star), and jessica Care moore (author of The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth). Sarah Jones, one of the greatest voices to emerge from that scene, advanced to write and perform solo shows evocative of the early work of Danny Hoch and Anna Deavere Smith.

Since debuting her character sketch-work at the Nuyorican Poets Café in Surface Transit (1998), Jones sharpened her mash-up of comedy, social criticism, and satire in the award-winning one-woman plays Women Can’t Wait (2000) and Waking the American Dream (2002). From 2002 to ’03, Jones even fought the law and won after the FCC fined a radio station for airing her “indecent” poem, “Your Revolution.” (A sample: “your revolution won’t knock me up/ and produce lil’ future MCs/ because that revolution will not/ happen between these thighs.”) Jones sued, causing the commission to rescind its ruling after two years of legal wrangling.

In her Broadway-bound Bridge & Tunnel (last year’s 45 Bleecker Street Theatre version was produced, in part, by Meryl Streep), Jones inhabits fourteen different multicultural personalities, any of whom—Pakistani accountant Mohammed Ali, Mexican laborer Juan José—might be seen strap-hanging on a 7 train headed to her native Jamaica, Queens.

The poet-performer-playwright-spoken-word-artist-actress explained herself during a recent phone call from Manhattan. Chatting amiably on a cellular in the midst of approving her pilot for The Sarah Jones Show—with asides from Steve Coleman, her personal and professional partner—Jones seemed frenzied but in good spirits.

—Miles Marshall Lewis

*

THE BELIEVER: Back in 1977, Lily Tomlin told Time magazine: “Commercial TV specializes in escapist fantasies. I deal with culture reality.” What’s your opinion of this idea?

SARAH JONES: I think that she’s absolutely right. And fortunately, because she’s as inventive and creative and engaged as she is in the world, she found the bridge between realities. She figured out how to present the ideas that she thought were relevant in a way that almost fooled the public—or, to put it a better way, the executives at the television networks—into thinking that she was giving them whatever it is they believe people want. We ought to give people a lot more credit for their creativity as audience members and their ability to stretch their own ideas about what’s funny, what’s dramatic, what’s moving. There’s lots of room for people to learn about one another, learn about themselves, that I think we aren’t tapping into because a whole bunch of corporate hacks have decided what’s gonna go on television and what’s gonna be the best developed. It’s a mess.

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Miles Marshall Lewis is the author of Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises, a collection of essays. He is working on a book about Sly & the Family Stone, There’s a Riot Goin’ On (Continuum Books, 2006).

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