The Monster I Am Today
The Monster I Am Today
Leontyne Price remains one of the twentieth century’s most revered opera singers and, notably, the first African American to achieve such international acclaim. In movements encompassing poetry and prose, writer and musician Kevin Simmonds explores Price as an icon, a diva, a woman, and a patriot—and himself as a fan, a budding singer, and a gay man—through passages that move polyphonically through the contested spaces of Black identity, Black sound, Black sensibility, and Black history.
Structured operatically into overture, acts, and postlude, The Monster I Am Today guides the reader through associative shifts from arias like “weather events” and Price’s forty-two-minute final ovation to memories of Simmonds’s coming of age in New Orleans. As he melds lyric forms with the biography of one of opera’s greatest virtuosos, Simmonds composes a duet that spotlights Price’s profound influence on him as a person and an artist: “That’s how I hear: Her.”
“In the urgent spirit of those who have sought to unearth and celebrate the combined wealth of archived, preserved, and inherited histories of African American lives, Kevin Simmonds has produced an intimate, iconic, and wonderfully lyrical accounting of the life and art of Leontyne Price. Simmonds’ gift of well-developed emotional and intellectual artistry allows him, in this collection of luminous poems and revealing prose, to produce a work of great importance and power. By laying bare his own admiration of Price, and by doing so with emotional and intellectual honesty and intimacy, Simmonds tells us why we should value Price. Price is an American treasure of genius and humanity, and in The Monster I Am Today, Simmonds reminds us of his own singular value to American letters.” —Kwame Dawes, author of Nebraska: Poems
“Each of us has a personal diva—or should. Leontyne Price is the greatest singer that our country produced in the 20th century. How fitting that she should continue to receive her flowers while she still dwells among us. Kevin Simmonds’ intelligent and open homage to ‘the god-object of her voice’ is pitch perfect, and a valuable lesson to future singers on how their art functions beyond their control, shaping the life of each listener in profound ways.” —Dante Micheaux, author of Circus