Morgan Jerkins: Ruthlessly Herself

Published February 2, 2018.

Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend. Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere. Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow. Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda, finding your voice, finding your power. And Amina interviews Morgan Jerkins about her new book This Will Be My Undoing. [Theme Song] (1:52) Aminatou: Hey, hey girl. Ann: Hey Aminatou Sow. Aminatou: Oof. How's it going over there? Ann: Oh, you know, I'm pretty good. I'm excited for our special guest this week. Aminatou: I'm very excited about our special guest this week. I talked to Morgan Jerkins who is a New York City based writer in her 20s. She's so smart. She graduated Princeton with so many degrees. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writer's Program and she is the contributing editor at Catapult and a former Book of the Month judge. I know there are so many Book of the Month fans on the podcast. You've probably read a lot of her freelance stuff at the New Yorker, the Times, the Atlantic, Elle, Lenny Letter, Rolling Stone. Basically this lady's been around. Ann: She's like a quadruple threat. Like all of the lit things she is amazing at. Aminatou: Yeah, she has all of the lit things like on lock. Ann: Lit, lit. Aminatou: [Laughs] Why does nobody have Lit Lit as a lit brand? Okay, that's our next goal. Ann: Also putting in a plug for Catapult in general which I feel has some truly incredible writing, feminist writing. It feels like a corner of the Internet where the world slows down a little bit and I get to truly experience some good essayists and I know that Morgan has a big hand in that. And so I know we're going to talk about her writing work but editor-to-editor love bug right there for Catapult. Aminatou: I know. And we do kind of talk about what her mission is in publishing, right? Yeah, she's a really thoughtful, smart young lady. Her debut essay collection called This Will Be My Undoing is out on January 30th at Harper Perennial. And, you know, this is going to be one of the big books of the year. You know how you always know from how the marketing roll out is and it's been on so many lists. Roxane Gay just interviewed her a couple weeks ago in Elle and Roxane's been a big booster of the book. This is going to be a book that we're going to talk about for a long time for many reasons. (4:05) Ann: You're saying there's buzz? Aminatou: I'm saying there's hella buzz. Ann: [Laughs] Aminatou: And listen, the buzz is super-warranted. One, so I talked to Morgan about a lot of things, namely being black ladies, and when I was reading the book -- so it's a short essay collection, part memoir, and then cool thoughts on culture and feminism and all of that stuff. But one of the things that I realized is oh, you're in your 20s and writing a memoir which is a thing that I'm usually very like ugh, like what do us young people have to say about anything? Ann: Yeah, you can't write a memoir until you have at least 30% grey hairs, right? Aminatou: Right. I'm just like you have to be 85 to tell people about your life. And then actually no, Amina, that's a really dumb thing to think because people have really great experiences that are worth talking about. And then when you start thinking about Morgan's work specifically, it's how she's a young, black feminist talking about her own life in ways that are so underrepresented in pretty much all of literature I would say was something that I was really struck by. I was like these are conversations that I have with my family and they're conversations I have with my friends and they're private things that I'm ashamed of but I never say them out loud. And I told Morgan this, like one of the overwhelming feelings when I was reading her was literally gasping being like "Why are you telling people this?" Ann: [Laughs] Aminatou: And then having to check myself because I just realized, I was like oh, this is an experience that doesn't get . . . the internal lives of black women doesn't get written about a lot. And the thing about it that was amazing and in talking to her that I really appreciated, right, is that she really drives home that, you know, she doesn't want this to be the here is how . . . this is the seminal book on young women, like young black women in their 20s or whatever. It's like no, this is very much my experience and I'm an individual and I have individual thoughts but also here is what it means to be who I am in the context of this world. And she has a really good head on her shoulders which I think will be good because book people try to make everything really simple, right? It's like Ta-Nehisi Coates is the black man writer, Roxane Gay the black woman writer, and now here's the younger person. And I feel like that's not going to happen with this conversation. (6:28) Ann: Ugh, yes. Can't wait to hear from Morgan. [Interview Starts] Aminatou: Hello Morgan! Morgan: Hi. Aminatou: Thanks for joining us on Call Your Girlfriend today. Morgan: Thank you for having me. Aminatou: Tell the people what your book is called and when it's out and when they can get it. Morgan: Okay, so my book is called This Will Be My Undoing. It's coming out January 30th and you can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Harper Perennial. website, and at your nearest bookstore. Aminatou: That's right. And remember the CYG rule: if you like a book buy one for your friend. We're really excited to talk to you today. So your book is part memoir, part biography. It is the experience of one black woman in America which is really exciting to me because I feel like first of all whenever people of color, especially women of color write books the book industry is so quick to be like "Here's the defining experience of what this thing is." [Laughs] Morgan: Mm-hmm. Aminatou: But I think what was really heartening reading about you was just how personal it was and how, you know, it was like a very modern narrative of girlhood which that felt really fresh and it felt very much to the 20th century. Can you talk to me more about what was the process behind okay, I want to write this very personal book? But it is also commentary on society today. (7:50) Morgan: Right. So I didn't think that I was going to write an essay collection. It just sort of happened naturally I guess with the help of my agent Monica. She saw my work online and noticed that there was an emphasis on black people and especially black women in this intersection of race and gender and she was like "Why don't you write about it?" And I said okay. So I crafted a book proposal and you know when you write a book proposal you have to have sample chapters, and when I got to that question when I wrote -- when I was thinking about the first sample chapter -- it didn't take much thought. It's like I already knew in the back of my head what I wanted to write about. What were the moments that I knew I was specifically black and female? Aminatou: Mm-hmm. Morgan: And so that's why in that first chapter when I talked about the cheerleading tryouts it didn't take me days to go over it. Sometimes I think those moments that stick with you, that sort of influence your psychology or the way in which you perceive the world, they stay with you. I guess to some people that's trauma but it was something that I wanted to convey. And I also wanted to get back to your point about just making sure people know that it's one story because I knew that if I kept saying well black women, black women, black girls, black girls, and not also prefacing with "But this is one story" then a lot of people would say you're generalizing. Aminatou: Yeah. Morgan: And I wanted to make sure I say in the first chapter I cannot speak for everyone, so I hope that maybe this is your first time reading about a black woman or maybe it's a continuation but just know that there are so many other parts that have to be uncovered as well. Aminatou: Yeah. I mean I think that's a really important conversation to have because I know when I was reading it there were a lot of things that I was like "I don't identify with this" or "I don't agree with this" and we're both two black women, right, who live in New York. But surprise, surprise. Morgan: Right, right. Aminatou: Our lives can be different. But I think also probably the reason I felt that is because I'm like there's so few of these books and so there's so much pressure to be like the voice every time, you know? And I think that as readers we internalize that, and also I don't know, it creates this internal pressure. But the other thing I think too that I was really surprised by when I was reading your essay collections is that at some points I was gasping -- I was like "Morgan, we don't talk about this with white people." (10:20) Morgan: Yes, oh my god. [Laughs] Aminatou: I was like okay, this girl has lost her mind. Morgan: Yeah, yeah. Aminatou: And I realize it was . . . and again I was like wow, this is challenging me to unpack my own internalized feelings about how I talk about race and how I talk about myself and I was really surprised by that. Morgan: Mm-hmm. Wow. Aminatou: And so like things -- I think that one conversation that we're okay having with white people is the hair conversation now. Morgan: Oh yeah. Aminatou: It's like we don't care. We're like "Don't touch our hair." But the thing that you talked about how you grew up wanting to be a white cheerleader, and it's like ugh, that feeling of like okay, I didn't feel adequate or I had a different idea of what I wanted to be, I was like we talk about that sometimes. I talk about that with some of my girlfriends. I think my sister and I have had that conversation. But I'm not comfortable having that conversation out loud. Morgan: Mm-hmm. Aminatou: And so hearing you talk about it was very challenging. Morgan: Yeah. Well I think for me I told myself -- I was like "Listen, you only have one time to be a debut so you'd better bring it." Aminatou: [Laughs] Morgan: I didn't want to look at a chapter in my book and say "I wish I could've gone harder on that." And so that's the one thing that I'm proud of, that when I look at each chapter I was like I did the best that I could do. But I will say that there are many times in the book, talking about the cheerleading incident, talking about being bullied by other black girls, talking about my sexuality, I was like I am creating a massive violation because these kinds of conversations only happen when I'm at brunch with my black girlfriends, when I'm in the kitchen talking to my mother or my aunties and I was like what do I think I'm doing? But I also said -- I said to myself aside from saying that this is my debut and I only have one shot to make it, to do the best that I can do, I also said I owe it to myself and the people I know have been ashamed to talk about it to go there. Aminatou: Mm-hmm. (12:20) Morgan: I don't feel like . . . I feel like you should be comfortable divulging what you want depending on the space that you're in but for me and what I was trying to accomplish with this book is just saying like you don't have to be ashamed of this. They should know about it because we hear so much about white woman inferiority all the time from the trivial to the significant and the earth-shattering and the harrowing. Why can't they hear about something that we go through? But maybe just what I'm going through. And as I said I can't speak for everyone but I want you to reckon with that. Aminatou: Yeah. Morgan: Because everything that I've gone through, all of the hypocrisies and contradictions and all that I make about myself with other people, like I don't live in a vacuum. Aminatou: Yeah. Morgan: So you should reckon with that. Like I have to reckon with everybody else's problems. [Laughs] Aminatou: That's fair. Do you feel that there . . . you know, there are some essays that I read, and you've already written about this, about your choice to get labiaplasty and things like that. Some of the very personal sex things that you will feel differently about how you chose to share that in a couple of years maybe. Morgan: Maybe. I might. I think when I look at what I wrote a lot of those particular sections I was afraid of what my mother would think. Aminatou: That's fair. Morgan: Because my mother is still in a very tight-knit small town Christian community and she even asked me, she was like "What's going to happen when this book comes out and people Facebook message me about it?" I said "Well direct them to me." I said "Because I'm grown. Nobody pays for my rent but me." Aminatou: [Laughs] (14:00) Morgan: So if they have something to say then tell me because I don't have shame for what happened. I think when I'm like 40 I might look at certain chapters like oh my god, like why did you do it? But I also think I need to pay respect to myself at that point in time, like this is what I was going through and this is what I had to get off my chest at that point. Aminatou: Mm-hmm. Morgan: Because there will be some times when I'll look at essays that I've written online and I'm like man, I could've done this or that maybe stylistically or mechanically. I'm like man, maybe I shouldn't have said that. But I also say that was a part of my making and I don't think that I should be like "Well I regret doing that," because it's starting to resonate. Like when I have people who have looked at advanced reader copies of the books I'll have black women who will direct message me on Instagram and be like "Thank you for writing that. I could never say that." Aminatou: Wow. Morgan: And I'm like okay, well then I did a good job. Aminatou: Yeah. And I think that the . . . I really like that point that you're making because I think one anxiety that so many of us feel is that you need to come into the world as a fully-formed person, right? It's like all of your ideas have to be woke. Your politics have to be perfect. Your confidence has to be at 100 and all these things and I think that hearing narratives of girlhood or young adulthood really challenge you in that place. This is whether you see yourself or whether you're like "Hmm, this person will feel differently about this choice later," you are confronted with the fact that people change and people grow and you go through all of this stuff. Morgan: Right. And I think that it's very hard with the digital social media culture where we're very quick to drag someone, we're very quick to cancel, and I think it's something that I had to remind myself and other people, like listen, wokeness or consciousness is not a linear path. It is messy. It is jagged. You're going to second-guess yourself. You're going to be hypocritical because you're growing. That's not to say you shouldn't be held accountable. So there are many times in the book where I'll say "This is how I felt and it was messed up and I'm ashamed of that." Aminatou: [Laughs] (16:05) Morgan: But I have to tell you because I can't give you pretty. Like I tell people as an essayist I assure you that I'll give you aesthetically pleasing sentences with the help of a great editor but I can't give you pretty memories because that wasn't what they were. And I'd be lying to you if I were just like this is where I was and this is where I am and there's just this clean trajectory to the top because it wasn't. It wasn't. Aminatou: Can you talk more about that open letter to Michelle Obama that you wrote? Morgan: Yeah, you know what? It was interesting because I wasn't sure that it was going to be accepted in the final draft because it felt like a little bit of a diversion just focusing on this one woman. The reason why I connected with Michelle as so many other black women do is because she's phenomenal, not only because of her accomplishments but also because of the way she carries herself and we will never understand the magnitude of all the judgment that she's gotten on her looks and all these sorts of things. And I think it became personal because we're both Princeton graduates and while I was at Princeton we deified this woman for everything that she had done because it showed us all that we don't have to shrink whether we want to be married to a man or just because we want to do what we want to do and be great at it. So I wanted to write that open letter to her because unfortunately I never met her. She . . . Aminatou: You never know. You never know now. [Laughs] Morgan: Well I know. I hope so. But, you know, we have reunions every year at Princeton and she never came but she had a terrible time there and so it was a thing of me just paying honor to this woman as a Princeton alumni, as someone who's just a black woman and saw what she represented to me and other people. And I thought it was perfect to be a part of the book because she's just so much of who I think about, even though she's not our first lady anymore sadly. She's always going to be someone that is going to be a part of me I guess. (18:10) Aminatou: Okay, shifting away a little bit from the book I'm wanting to talk about growing up and realizing. I follow you on Twitter. Morgan: Okay. Aminatou: And it's a treat. It's a treat and a delight. But one thing that's been -- you know, it's like Twitter is so weird. You don't know people but you get to know . . . Morgan: Yes. Aminatou: You get to kind of get their geography a little bit. Morgan: Yes, yeah. Aminatou: And you're getting it. And one thing that has been very apparent in your social media path has been, I don't know, like landing in New York and finding your feet. Morgan: Yes. Aminatou: You know, in a way where this city is really brutal. We all love New York but New York, it's a trash town but it's our trash town. Morgan: Right, right. Aminatou: And, you know, there's so much of the like "Making it in New York" or whatever. But part of the reason why I enjoy following you is because I'm like yes, finally a black woman who is . . . Morgan: [Laughs] Aminatou: Like I don't want to hear about Carrie Bradshaw anymore and her New York experience. Morgan: Oh yeah, no. [Laughs] Aminatou: But yeah, you've been really transparent kind of about all the things that young people go through. It's like dating and working in publishing and just trying to make your way and the day-to-day of life here. Morgan: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean I think that's part of the reason why I have the followers that I do is not just because of my writing online but because I'm very off-the-cuff. Like I will go on Twitter and say "Oh my gosh, this man with the finest beard was on the train and it just made my day." Aminatou: [Laughs] Yes. Morgan: I didn't talk to him because like . . . yeah, but I didn't talk to him because I'd just got done working out and I'm doing this whole self-care thing. Like all of these neuroses. Because even though we only have -- well I was about to say 140 characters, 280 characters -- it's like I want to show people the zig-zags. Like again I think it's . . . I mean people tell me "Oh, you curate yourself very nicely online." People use all these business terms. I'm like "But I don't really think about that." I'm like oh my gosh, I want to talk to someone. And I think it's amplified because I live by myself and because New York can be such a lonely place. (20:10) Like I literally was on the train yesterday and I was going home after working out and I saw these two women of colors and there are two daughters and they're both friends and they're both having these conversations. And I was looking at it and I was just so moved by it. Had I been in New Jersey I probably would've been like I don't care about these people. But because I was seeing that sort of intimate snapshot I gravitated towards it. And that's what certain things that happen when I'm in the city, where I'm like if I'm by myself or I'm doing research and I see little things like that, I'm like oh my gosh, I want to tell Twitter about it and hope people don't say like "Oh my gosh, you're creepy or cheesy." And that hasn't happened yet but yeah. Aminatou: I mean, you know, you're very earnest and you're very authentic and the thing is everybody likes to throw those words around, authenticity, but there's a line where they're like "Tell me about yourself" but then they don't actually want to be so invested. That's the social economy. Morgan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Aminatou: That line, I think it's really hard for women because you want people to like you or at least that's what society tells you. Morgan: Yeah. Aminatou: It's like you have to be likable. You have to be here. But I think that when you're a black woman that's also . . . like likability just goes out the window in this very different kind of way, you know? Morgan: Yeah. I think it's like, you know, I will look at certain women, white women writers who are online, and they can talk in a way that I'll never go there to talk about certain issues like whether it's about misogyny or talking about their sex lives, you know? And I'll look at them and they'll have all these men commenting like "Oh, you're so hot." They're like agreeing with them. And if I say that, if I say to man go F off or something like that you're going to make a . . . you're going to either make a stereotypical comment and think it's not a comment or it's just going to go left. Because I've noticed sometimes, even with that authenticity, that earnestness that comes with being a black woman, some people think you're too accessible. (22:10) So what I mean by that is sometimes I'll make a tweet about something and it may be a white woman -- and obviously everybody has good intentions -- but they'll probably respond and say like "Oh, girl," or something. And I'm like wait a minute, we are not at that level. Aminatou: [Laughs] Morgan: You know what I mean? Aminatou: Yeah. Morgan: So I think there's something to be said, and it's interesting you're saying that. Even when white women say all these things about their lives there still are parts of them that are restricted, like we're conditioned that we can't . . . there's some parts that are untouchable, whereas if a black woman is kind or she's really nice online or whatever it's like okay, now I have to get every part of her. And that goes into the whole we can go into emotional labor and how that happens as well, you know? Aminatou: Yeah. Yeah. And how you have to be accessible and you have to save everybody. Morgan: Yeah, yeah. Aminatou: Like we're all running for president now. Morgan: [Laughs] Right, right. Aminatou: We're the only ones who vote, right? Morgan: Right. Right. Aminatou: Yeah, you know, and I think the other thing too -- and you write about this -- is about being a feminist and being a black feminist is so interesting on so many levels because on one hand black women build feminism but a lot of times it can feel like the public face of feminism, it's so unrecognizable from what the actual ideals are. Morgan: Right, right. Aminatou: And so we talk about white feminism and we talk about how that's commodified and all those things but you really wrestle with that, right? Like your identity about how do you identify? Like am I a feminist? Am I a black feminist? Am I a woman? Am I a black woman? Morgan: Yeah. Aminatou: And you have to unpack all of it. (23:45) Morgan: Right, and I think the interesting thing is when I talk about do I have to be black first or a woman first or feminist or black feminist I feel like I'm repeating myself so much that I'm belaboring the point. But every time I go on Twitter I will see someone, whether it's a black man or whether it's a white person, white woman or white man, they'll be like oh, to say something it makes it feel like I have to split my identity up and then I have to keep repeating myself. And I'm like this is exactly why I do the work that I do because many times as a black woman, like I am black and a woman, somehow we have to be carved into these little pieces because otherwise you cannot assess us in the right way, you know what I mean? And that's the part that kind of gets on my nerves but it also fuels the work that I do because I wanted to . . . One of the things that I wanted to accomplish in this book is I know that it's -- I don't want everyone to agree with me on everything. It's probably not going to happen. But I want people to understand that there are many moments where you can't choose and why would you want us to choose? Because so much of what we go through, it's an intersection and we have to deal with that and why don't you have to deal with that? You know what I mean? Aminatou: Yeah. Morgan: Why are you asking us these questions that you want us to compartmentalize our humanity? We don't do that for any of you. I mean so yeah. Aminatou: Yeah. [Ads] (28:25) Aminatou: If you could go back to baby Morgan, 18, about to go to Princeton. Morgan: Oh god. Aminatou: What would you tell that person now from everything that you know now? Morgan: Oh my god. Man, I would tell her to just don't even worry about the boys. Don't. Aminatou: [Laughs] Morgan: Because I went to high school and I was like I don't want to be in a relationship or whatever, because I was like you know what? I am going to just go to Princeton and guys are going to like me now because of my, you know, my intellect. And I go to Princeton and I'm like you know, this is the same as high school except we have dorms and our parents aren't around. So I wish I would've told my 18-year-old self trust what you can do more. Stop looking for predominately white organizations to validate your writing talent. Maybe you're not meant to be a part of them, and I wasn't. And also like I said stop looking -- stop thinking that you're not whole if you don't have a boyfriend. Like stop thinking that having a boyfriend is an accomplishment. And don't read those things about how unmarriageable you are. (29:45) Like so much of my college experience -- which I love Princeton. Intellectually I was just soaring. I could explore everything I wanted to. But socially it was just so hard because I felt like I had to have everything to prove to myself and my community that I could be smart and I could be opinionated and I could also be loved in a romantic sense. And if I would've stopped worrying about that for those four years I would've saved a lot of energy but also I guess that was a part of my evolution. [Laughs] Aminatou: Right, it's like you have to go. It's so ridiculous to think about that at -- when do you graduate college, at 22? Morgan: Yes. Aminatou: That you're supposed to have all those things. Morgan: Yeah. Aminatou: I'm like I'm 32 now. I don't have most of those things. I'm fine. Morgan: Yeah, but also I came from a Christian community and, you know, it was . . . the oldest person in my family to get married was like 26 and me and my sister on my mother's side were the first people to go to college. So my mother and my grandmother -- or to graduate from college, sorry. But my mother and my grandmother, they just thought that that was the place to find your equal. Aminatou: You get an MRS at college. Morgan: Yeah, so get your degree but also it's hard out here. Yeah, I remember when I was 12 I thought I wanted to get married at 22 and I was like man, if I would've gotten married at 22 I would've been ruined. [Laughs] Aminatou: [Laughs] That's so funny. And you also work in publishing. Morgan: Mm-hmm. Aminatou: Which is predominately not very colorful. Morgan: [Laughs] Aminatou: And can you talk a little bit about that, and just who are the people that see the world in the way that you do? Because you mentioned your editor and she's a fabulous woman of color and you get to do work with people who both understand you and also know your background in an industry that's not really friendly towards that. Morgan: Yeah, so I'm just going to say that sometimes I think it's a dream in terms of being in publishing because I said it on Twitter, I made a long thread about it, but getting into publishing was not easy. It was not about credentials. Aminatou: Is that what you wanted to do from the beginning? You were like this is the industry I want to go into? (31:58) Morgan: Probably when I got into college, yeah. When I was 14 I thought I wanted to be like a doctor like my father but luckily I got rid of that dream when I went to college because if I would've taken an organic chemistry class I would've just failed. But I knew I wanted to be in publishing, I knew I wanted to be a writer, so senior year of college -- mind you I went through multiple unpaid internships. I was taking the New Jersey transit to New York for 15-minute interviews. It would last all day adding in commute times and I wouldn't even hear a call-back. Mind you -- and I don't want to flex too much -- but I had the comparative literature degree. I went to an Ivy League university. I spoke six languages. I did multiple unpaid internships. There was no time during those moments where I shook hands with an editorial assistant who was not white -- was not a white woman. And it's crazy now because to think about those moments where if it were not for Twitter, you know, I would probably not be where I am. I met my agent through Twitter. My agent is a woman of color. Then I met my acquiring editor who is actually a white woman. Aminatou: Oh, sorry, I met your agent. My bad! Morgan: But yeah, I met them through Twitter. It was through me being at home pretty much depressed because I couldn't even get an editorial assistant job that literally said on the website just a four-year degree and an interest in literature, and I was just at home and I was freelancing and tweeting and that's how I found people. And so I'm now an associate editor at Catapult and I got my job because -- part of the reason is because there was a black man there, an editor there, his name is Mensah Demary and I went in and I interviewed for that position and it was a 15 -- I'd already moved to New York by then, I'd saved up money to move to New York -- it was a 15-minute interview and I just did what I had to do when I left because at that moment I was just so worn down that it was just go to Starbucks and get a cup of coffee. I just did what I had to do. But he was the one who told my boss you need to hire her because there's nobody that can do what she can do. That's part of the reason why I have the job that I have now. (34:04) So I think being in publishing I have a woman of color agent who not only gives professional support but emotional support. So when I wrote certain things in my book that I was like okay, am I doing okay here? Or someone who fights for you to get the money that you deserve. And then having an acquiring editor who is a white woman it helped me with certain things when I was talking about hair. She had to tell me -- I remember, I'll never forget this -- she was like "You have to specify because a perm does not mean the same to white people as a black person." Aminatou: [Laughs] Morgan: And I was like what? And she was like "Yeah, a perm means to white people that their hair gets curly." And I was like oh yeah, that reminds me of Legally Blonde. That's why she won the case. So I was oh, so I literally saw that comment on Google Doc and I was like oh my god, yeah, they won't understand that. Aminatou: That's so funny. Morgan: And I had to put a little footnote. So I think me being in publishing right now, it's all because of just like the Internet. There was no other way. And that's what I had to tell people, like sometimes it doesn't matter how many unpaid internships you do, which school you went to as a woman of color, or how well you can do an interview. Take it from someone like me, I was not getting callbacks. I can't even tell you how many rejections I got. But it was because I was on Twitter that everything happened. Aminatou: Well I can't believe I'm going to say this but good for Twitter. [Laughs] Morgan: Yeah, yeah. Twitter is crazy but the community that I've had and the people . . . Aminatou: I mean you get a different kind of exposure which is true, right? Morgan: Yeah, and the amount of friends I have in New York, the majority of them I think, are from Twitter which helps me because sometimes you go to events and there's icebreakers like I don't feel like . . . Aminatou: Like you don't want to talk to people. Morgan: [Laughs] Yeah. Aminatou: Well, so the book is coming out. There's also news that you have many more books coming out. Morgan: Yeah! Aminatou: I like how you're like oh, this is my one shot at making it. It's like surprise! [Laughs] (35:50) Morgan: Yeah. It was funny because someone on Twitter literally was like "Oh my gosh, what are you doing over there?" And I'm like I've honestly been working my ass off. Aminatou: Yeah! Morgan: I wouldn't say this to you like a year and a half ago, like "Well I'm doing some things." But no, I've been working. I've got the bags under my eyes to show it. Aminatou: Doesn't it feel rewarding though? Doesn't it feel rewarding? Morgan: Yeah. Aminatou: Like all of the work that I did last year, all of that fruit is coming to bear. Morgan: Yeah, it's rewarding. It's scary because I'm like damn, I am what I wanted to be. I think, you know, being a black woman in this industry and to have the support of the people that I do and the financial support to talk about black things, and for someone to say "I'm going to give you money behind what it is that's fueling your interest right now," it means so much to me. And every day I have to fight back against -- sort of resist I guess is the word impostor syndrome because there'll be certain times where I'll get bylines in certain places and I'll be like "That is not me." I'll literally have to go in my Google Doc and say yes that was, I know that I wrote that. Aminatou: [Laughs] Morgan: But when it comes to writing books, and you know how hard it is and how some people don't get that chance. It's like well why did it happen for me? But at the same time it's good to be mindful of your privilege but don't discredit the work that you've been doing. So yeah, I'm coming out with two more books which I'm really excited about and I don't know if you want me to elaborate on . . . Aminatou: Yeah, go for it. Morgan: So the second book that I'm working on is called Why We Get Out and it's inspired by the movie Get Out and basically what I want to do is explore the origins -- potential origins rather -- of black paranoia and fear. So if you go on Twitter you might see memes of like "Black people don't do this. Black people don't do this." And I'm like well why don't we do that? So what I'm trying to do is interview black people of various ethnic groups across the country, like for example Louisiana Creel, Gullah Geechee people, as well as talk to scholars of various disciplines like folklore, genetics for example, and psychology, and to get these sort of ideas of what dictates our behavior? (38:05) The third project is a novel which I'm really happy about because I actually went in MFA. I did my MFA in fiction, so a lot of people don't know I'm a fiction writer. So basically it's set in Harlem and it's about women who are born with a call. So if you are familiar or not familiar with African-American folklore those who have a call are gifted with second sight. So I'm going to be writing about that as well so I'm really happy. [Laughs] Aminatou: This is exciting. I love what you said, like I'm doing all the things I wanted to do. Morgan: Mm-hmm. Aminatou: Like you hope that for everybody right? Morgan: Exactly. Aminatou: So that's great. Well Morgan thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for giving us your time and your attention. Morgan: Thank you. Aminatou: And the book is out, This Will Be My Undoing. So . . . Morgan: Thank you. Aminatou: Thanks. Morgan: Thank you so much. [Interview Ends] Aminatou: The thing about it that was great about reading her is there are a lot of ways that we're really alike, you know? And then there are a lot of ways that were actually really different. And I was like oh, I don't see myself in any of this book, I don't agree with all of it, but I so appreciate that it exists because it opens up the conversation about who gets to tell their story and who gets to be kind of a person in the world? And through all the stories it's like you see somebody grow up. She talks about a lot of the bullying that she endured when she was really young and these really college experiences that so many people can identify with and then being a young adult in New York now. And I was like wow, you really do go through a journey in your 20s. Ann: Yeah, it's truly like listening to you talk about also memoir that is written very close to the time it's lived. You know, when I think about some of my favorite memoirs of recent years it is Issa Rae's Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl; it's Gabby Sidibe's This is My Face. Aminatou: Yep. (39:58) Ann: It's -- you know, I really loved Brodie Lancaster's No Way! Okay, Fine last year all written by women about the era of their lives that they're still in. And the confidence it takes to say no, this is not like me making a comment about my generation and that's why you should care but literally this is only about me and you should still care because I'm amazing and interesting and valid and listen to my smart thoughts. I just am like yes, more of that. All of that. So good. Aminatou: Yeah, you know? And the other thing about Morgan too that's interesting is so she grew up in suburban New Jersey. She like went to Princeton. Now she lives in Harlem and she works in publishing and she always talks about feeling like an outsider which is both in this very personal way and also a political way which I think is so -- it's like the lens she uses is so interesting to analyze a lot of these problems. And some of the . . . she writes some incredible essays like who doesn't love Michelle Obama? But she has kind of a different connection with Michelle Obama because Michelle also went to Princeton. Ann: Huh. Aminatou: And, you know, it was like the woman that they all looked up to or whatever. That's my favorite essay in the book. Honestly it's so good. I wrote it down because it made me so happy. She calls Michelle the beacon that reminds white people that 99% of them will never reach where you are. Ann: Wow. Aminatou: It's like -- it's a lot. [Laughs] It's like really heavy. But also just like one of the essays that she . . . one of the topics that she touches on in the book and that she's written about previously if you follow her is her own decision to have labiaplasty when she was right out of college and that essay is interesting to me because it's kind of in the cannon of how do you justify things that you have done right, especially if you say that you're a feminist? Or like all of this stuff. And it ends up being a really interesting exploration of your own politics and also your own worth and your own beauty and how that stacks up against the message of the world. And I thought it was a really honest conversation to have in a world where we . . . I think when we're feminists we refuse sometimes to engage with these super mainstream beauty standards and be challenged in that place. (42:25) Ann: Right, or admit to feeling those pressures. Aminatou: Exactly. Ann: When even if you are a feminist you live in this world and those pressures affect you no matter what your political point-of-view is. Aminatou: Exactly. I'm like I love wearing lipstick. I will not apologize for it. [Laughs] Ann: Right, but will you write an essay interrogating why maybe you love it? Like sure, you know? That's the other -- yeah. Aminatou: Right, or thinking about plastic surgery procedures that I was like ooh, maybe I would explore this or this is good or this is an aesthetic that I like or whatever. And I don't know, I think it's so important to have somebody talk about that in this place where they're still just messily trying to figure themselves out. And I think one of the things that I enjoy the most honestly is that you just don't get . . . it's like there's so much, like you hear about black girl magic and everybody loves black women to be strong and vote right and always do the right thing. Ann: Saving the Democratic Party. Aminatou: Right. Ann: And bringing home the bacon and like every other -- yeah, yeah, sorry. Go on. Aminatou: Right. We're basically like Captain Save-a-Hoe for the rest of you. Ann: Right, where the rest of us are the Hoe. Yeah. Aminatou: Exactly. [Laughs] And here's Morgan, just like a messy woman trying to figure out her own politics and her own thoughts and whatever and I was like thank you. Thank you for not buying into this need to just be completely figure-it-out and have all your shit together and also just be strong for everyone, right? And there's something just very remarkable about that. I was like there are not a lot of those. There are not a lot of those narratives. (44:00) Ann: Do you . . . I'm curious about this, thinking about her book and her experiences in feeling confident in her choices and finding her voice, were you . . . are there things in your own life that you were like oh my god, even though I have never considered a labiaplasty or whatever this is the controversial thing that I think about over and over in my head or this is, you know, the similar points on your own confidence journey? Aminatou: Yeah. I think one of the early things that she talks about is how when she was in elementary school she wanted to be a white cheerleader. Ann: Wow. Aminatou: And that legit made me gasp. [Laughs] I was like I can't breathe. I can't breathe. We're not allowed to talk about this out loud. And I think the reason I had such a strong reaction to it is because I think that as I've gone through my own journey of kind of figuring out how I feel about my own race and my own place in the world and getting my politics and vocabulary right about it I've really repressed a lot of memories where -- in places where I either really wanted to assimilate with whiteness or was kind of forced to, you know? Ann: Yeah, yeah. Aminatou: And thinking about oh, there was a time in my life where I was not woke, I didn't have it together, but also I was this very confused only black girl in the class kind of thing. Ann: Right. Aminatou: And I forgot how painful that was. I was like oh, like I never had the experience where I wanted to be a white cheerleader but I wanted those white little girls to like me. And every time that, you know, one of them would say something funny about my hair . . . yeah, it's like hair was a predominant one, or any time anybody made me feel different when I never saw myself as different, I forgot how painful that was. And I was like oh, I just completely repressed all of these memories and I didn't want to deal with it. Another thing that she talks about too is just the taboo that a lot of black women have about being thought of as fast-tailed girls which is just basically the idea that black girls grow up too fast and they're really easy at a young age and things like that. But really it's a conversation about how we're sexualized at a young age and how vulnerable we are to sexual abuse and things like that. (46:25) Ann: Yeah. It's not like black girls are all like "Let's grow up too fast." This is like a cultural, like an embedded racist, sexual cultural phenomenon. Yeah. Aminatou: Right. And it's like . . . and I was like again that was something that was really painful to revisit. I was confronted with all of the places that I wasn't allowed to be a kid for a long time, like I had to grow up really, really fast. And again all of those things have repercussions in your present life, right? And in adulthood. And I'm such an avoider. This is why I go to therapy. Ann: [Laughs] Aminatou: And I don't know, reading that from another black woman meant a lot to me where I was like oh, this is not therapy speak. It's not some kind of documentary or hashtag on Twitter. You know, it was very much like here is a person that could be my friend talking about something that is hitting really close to me. Ann: Right, like black girl reality, now black girl magic. Aminatou: Exactly. I don't know, I have really come around the 20-something person memoir. I want to see more of them. [Laughs] I loved what you said about talking about your lived experience the closer you are to it because we didn't grow up with Internet all of the time and so I think that we were allowed to kind of make up our minds about things and change our minds or change our politics or whatever. And now it's really an exercise in bravery I feel like to tell people what your opinions are, like knowing that you will probably change your mind or new contexts will happen for you. And so that's why I really enjoyed this. (48:00) Aminatou: And yeah, I think that that's something that not just in the context of people who are young women who are writers or memoirists but the idea that if you express an opinion, even if it's just on the Internet to your friends, like you're not making your career as a writer, that's a stake in the ground that then people can disagree with you. You feel like you have to have every single argumentative point lined up to defend what you think. I am continually grateful that I got to kind of grow up with blog Internet and slowly gain an audience for my opinions, many of which are stupid and kind of unfounded, but I learned to feel okay with putting them out in the world anyways because I felt like I could do that with a little bit of anonymity, you know? It's like things are different now and I think that's why it's really important to have women like Morgan modeling this kind of honesty and confidence about owning their experiences in the public sphere. Ann: Yeah. You know, and the thing about Morgan, especially if you follow her on Twitter, is she's an endlessly earnest person which I feel that in the harsh coastal world that we live in it can really be looked down upon as a like oh my god, why do you put everything out there? Or why are you oversharing or whatever? And she doesn't do any of those things but I think she is ruthlessly herself all the time and that should really make everybody who reads her examine how they share their own ideas and how they feel about their own place in the world. You know, I was really challenged by that where I was like oh, it's okay to say everything that you think out loud. It's fine. It's like men do it all the time. Ann: All the time, like no qualms. (49:55) Aminatou: Literally all the time. But when you're a woman you have to have so many qualifications and then when you're a woman of color it's even more like ah, like can I even get a squeak out of here? And I was like actually take up all of the space in the world. Take up the space. Take up the time to say the things that you think and challenge yourself and just -- and be yourself in the moment. Like there's so much joy in that, and I don't know, it made me really happy. And it's like even if you read this book, and there's a lot of stuff that you won't agree with or things where you're like I don't understand this or I don't see this or whatever. And that's actually not the point. The point for me was it was like wow, I'm celebrating somebody talking about themselves, like a person who is usually not centered in any kind of popular narrative talking about their own reality and there's something so powerful about that. [Music] Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website, you can download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at callyrgf. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter The Bleed on the Call Your Girlfriend website. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, all original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our logos are by Kenesha Sneed, and this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac. This Will Be My Undoing is out. Get it, read it. Get your friends to read it and talk to us about it. Thanks so much to Morgan for talking to us. Boo-boo, I'll see you on the Internet. Ann: See you on the Internet. Can't wait to read your opinions on the Internet. [Laughs]