Published author, journalist and avid traveler Monique Antonette Lewis grew up in Texas and Colorado before following her wanderlust across the U.S. and abroad. During a stint in New York City, Lewis founded the reading series At the Inkwell, which has since gone international, with outposts bringing literary communities together to read for each other — and the public — in bookstores and bars in Denver, London, New York, Richmond, San Francisco and Seattle. Currently resettled in Denver — at least for now — Lewis has added the annual Lit Crawl Denver to her growing vita, in conjunction with the national group Litquake, all while continuing to build her own body of work. Learn more about Lewis’s passions; her 100CC answers follow.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Monique Antonette Lewis: Close family and friends, especially one of my best friends in New York City. She always makes the most hilarious comments, side remarks and comebacks. Her voice is distinctive, and I've drawn from her personality to create memorable characters.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Margaret Mitchell. I’d want her to tell me how she finished Gone With The Wind. It's an epic tale spanning more than a decade, and I admire the storytelling and her character arcs.
Prince. He’s cool, sexy, talented and fun. Everyone needs "the life of the party."
My mom. She is funny and can relate to anyone. I can always count on her to tell me the truth whether I like it or not, and that includes what to serve guests.
I think the best quality about my local creative community is unconditional support. When I moved back to my home town nearly two years ago, the writing community was enthusiastic about my plans to start a reading series under my At the Inkwell organization and the Lit Crawl festival. I found many writers and organizations who wanted to partner together, and I was amazed with the collaborative efforts, whether it was pitching writers to read for At the Inkwell or inviting me to read for their series.
The worst part is feeling like you can't support everyone when you want to. I would like to attend more readings and book launches, if there were more hours in the day. I know how much it means to have even just one familiar face in the crowd to hear you read.
How about globally?
Outside of the U.S., I've only worked with the local writing community in London, which has a large writing scene as well. Since I launched At the Inkwell in London in July 2016, we've had plenty of writers who are eager to read for the series, but finding a venue to support the series is challenging. Most businesses in the U.S. are more willing to donate their space for the arts, but this is less common in London.
Trends are basically fads. That fad could be hot this year and not marketable the following year, especially in publishing. The problem with catering to a trend is that people are fickle, and you can't predict what they'll love or hate from one moment to the next. You also neglect nurturing your own talent when you choose to follow fads. I'd rather be my own fad. I'll draw inspiration and writing techniques from others, but the last thing I want my name attached to is a fad.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I've had essays and short stories published, but I have yet to publish a novel. That's number one on my bucket list. Outside of writing, I want to visit all fifty U.S. states — I’m halfway there — and see as many countries as possible before I die. I'd also like to live in France for a few years.
I will always cherish my reading for This Is My Brave in 2015 in New York City. It was the first national storytelling series that I had the pleasure to be cast in. I wrote about my father's mental illness, the effect it had on my family and how I learned to forgive and have more compassion for him. It is the most personal story I've shared in front of an audience, and I was incredibly touched by how much my story resonated with others. It was the first reading where I felt like my writing was helpful to others, whether they struggle living with a mental illness or know someone who does.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I was born in Denver and moved away at six weeks old to Big Spring, Texas, before returning just before my ninth birthday. I grew up in Aurora and Denver and tried to stay close to family after I graduated Colorado State University with a journalism degree in 2004. I had trouble finding a reporting job in my field because I was too "green." Like most graduates at that time, I had to move to gain experience. I'm not so sure that would still be an issue if I were a recent graduate today, given how much Denver has attracted new businesses in the past ten years.
Still, I wanted to leave even before I went to college. I wanted to see more of the country and explore anywhere that wasn't Colorado or Texas, where my family spent most of our vacations. When I was fifteen, my late great-aunt invited me to tag along for her mother-daughter trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City. I flew alone, for the first time, on Christmas, to meet them. After that trip, I have never wanted to stay in one place for too long. I've lived in Vienna, Austria; Maryland; upstate New York and New York City. Since returning home to Denver nearly two years ago, I am reaching that point of anxiousness to leave again. There is so much more of this world to see, people to meet and experiences to write about.
The first person who comes to mind is the former Aurora poet laureate Jovan Mays. He is one of the hardest-working poets I've met in the Denver-area writing community. I first saw him perform at Rangeview High School in Aurora and was blown away. I later saw him at multiple major readings that year and was honored that he read for At the Inkwell at the first annual Lit Crawl Denver, in 2016. His performance that night brought me to tears, and he spoke truths that touched many people's hearts and minds. Jovan is not afraid to call out issues that need to be addressed, and he does it so beautifully that you can't look away when he steps onto the floor. I look up to him as a strong black poet who inspires both the young and old.
I plan to begin pitching my novel to agents, travel to a few more countries, improve my French-speaking skills and hopefully find a new city to live in.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
That is such a touchy question to answer. I have so many local writers I look up to that I would be uncomfortable singling out names.
Discover six local literary groups — At the Inkwell, Fbomb, the Mile-High MFA program at Regis University, Lighthouse Writers, Colorado Humanities and Tethered by Letters — at the second annual Lit Crawl Denver, 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 1, at various locations along Tennyson Street in the Berkeley neighborhood, including BookBar, 4280 Tennyson. See the schedule and learn more online.