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Performance: Kevin Simmonds

with Valetta Brinson, James Cagney and devorah major

Kevin Simmonds reads from new his book, The Monster I Am Today: Leontyne Price and a Life in Verse.  Joining the reading and celebration are poets James Cagney and devorah major, and soprano Valetta Brinson. 

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 classical music’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.” 

The Monster I Am Today: Leontyne Price and a Life in Verse may well prove to be the ultimate hybrid: a monster of a book, to be read and reread, not in parts but whole, attending and attentive to the body of its ‘dark molasses sound.” —Brenda Marie Osbey, World Literature Today


Kevin Simmonds is a musician and writer originally from New Orleans. He is the author of The Monster I am Today: Leontyne Price and a Life in Verse (Northwestern University Press), two poetry collections, Mad for Meat and Bend to It (both from Salmon Poetry), and the editor of Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion, and Spirituality (Sibling Rivalry Press) and Ota Benga under My Mother’s Roof (University of South Carolina Press). He lives in San Francisco. 

Soprano Valetta Brinson has performed in the UK, Japan and throughout the US, specializing in the music of Bach, Mozart and Strauss, as well as the songs of African American composers such as Earnestine Rodgers Robinson. Among others, she has performed with Nashville Opera Mississippi Opera and Opera Memphis in such productions as Der Rosenkavelier, Madama Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi, Die Zauberflöte and Falstaff. And she created the role of Coretta Scott King in the opera, The Promise, by John Baur. She is Associate Professor of Music at Southwest Tennessee Community College. 

James Cagney is a poet from Oakland. His first book, Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour Of Chaos Theory, won the PEN Oakland 2019 Josephine Miles award. His second collection, Martian:The Saint of Loneliness is due from Nomadic Press this September. 

devorah major, born and raised in California, served as San Francisco’s Third Poet Laureate (2002-2006). She has just returned from Italy where her sixth book of poetry with open arms was released in a bilingual edition. A Willow Press Editors Choice her seventh book of poetry Califia’s Daughter was published by Willow Press in 2020. 


Kevin Simmonds - Website | Kevin Simmonds - Instagram 

Valetta Brinson - Instagram 

James Cagney - Website 

devorah major - Website  






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