Morgan Jerkins is the Senior Editor at ZORA and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Her debut essay collection, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America (Harper Perennial), was a New York Times bestseller and longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Jerkin’s second book Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots (Harper) published in August 2020.
Incisive and illuminating, Wandering in Strange Lands is a timely and enthralling look at America’s past and present, one family’s legacy, and a young black woman’s life, filtered through her sharp and curious eyes. In this fascinating and deeply personal exploration, Jerkins recreates her ancestors’ journeys across America, following the migratory routes they took from Georgia and South Carolina to Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California. Following in their footsteps, she seeks to understand not only her own past, but the lineage of an entire group of people who have been displaced, disenfranchised, and disrespected throughout our history. Through interviews, photos, and hundreds of pages of transcription, Jerkins braids the loose threads of her family’s oral histories, which she was able to trace back 300 years, with the insights and recollections of black people she met along the way—the tissue of black myths, customs, and blood that connect the bones of American history.
Jerkins, an acclaimed cultural critic – a writer whom Roxane Gay has hailed as “a force to be reckoned with” – is known for her honest and incisive commentary. Her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and ELLE, among many others. Through passionate presentations and discussions, Jerkins aims to start a conversation.
Jerkin’s first novel, Caul Baby, is forthcoming from Harper in 2021. She is based in Harlem.
Praise for Wandering in Strange Lands:
"Traveling throughout the country, [Jerkins] explores the path her family took as well as her cultural identity as a black woman. Her desire to understand both her personal and cultural origins will inspire you to do the same."
"For fans of “The 1619 Project,” The New York Times Magazine’s series that recently reexamined the legacy of slavery in the United States, this book is an interesting companion piece. For a long time, Jerkins’ family chose to look forward, not back. But what she found when she finally did retrace their steps was her true self. It had not been forgotten; it was just waiting to be discovered."
-- Bust Magazine
“[A] forthright and informative account. . . . Jerkins’s careful research and revelatory conversations with historians, activists, and genealogists result in a disturbing yet ultimately empowering chronicle of the African-American experience. Readers will be moved by this brave and inquisitive book.”
-- Publishers Weekly
"Wandering in Strange Lands intertwines segments of past and present travel, as a reminder that the past is present in the U.S."
-- O, the Oprah Magazine
“A thrilling, emotional, and engaging ride that almost commands the reader to turn the page, Wandering in Strange Lands is required reading, accurately widening the lens of American history.”
-- Booklist (starred review)
“Driven by a need to understand her own identity, cultural critic Jerkins mounted an investigation into her family's tangled history, recounting in this candid memoir the surprising discoveries that emerged from her emotional journey. . . A revelatory exploration of the meaning of blackness.”
-- Kirkus Reviews
"A blend of reportage and memoir, this is just one story of many of this time—and one not to miss when it comes out."
-- Book Riot
Praise for This Will Be My Undoing:
“In Morgan Jerkins’s remarkable debut essay collection, This Will Be My Undoing, she is a deft cartographer of black girlhood and womanhood. From one essay to the next, Jerkins weaves the personal with the public and political in compelling, challenging ways. Her prodigious intellect and curiosity are on full display throughout this outstanding collection. The last line of the book reads, ‘You should’ve known I was coming,’ and indeed, in this, too, Jerkins is prescient. With this collection, she shows us that she is unforgettably here, a writer to be reckoned with.”
-- Roxanne Gay
Morgan Jerkins is a star, a force, a blessing, a scholar and a critic, and now can add great American essayist to that list! I found myself sighing, nodding, gasping, laughing, and crying while reading this collection–but mostly cheering! We can all sleep well at night knowing this country will inherit heart, mind, and soul like this. It’s safe to say I’ve never read anyone this young–barely at quarter life!–who can understand herself, those around her, past and present, with such dignity and clarity and generosity. Intersectionality in America is dissected, investigated, celebrated and challenged all without being pedantic or preachy or pretentious. And Jerkins is the sort of benevolent intellectual you want to spend time with–who will never lie to you, but also will never let you lie to her. I’ve long known that feminism and arts and media owe so much to the excellent work of black women and This Will be My Undoing is yet another testament to that.
-- Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons & Other Flammable Objects, The Last Illusion, and Sick
“Each chapter provides insightful, personal, and frank analysis of how several identities can and do overlap with one another.”
-- Library Journal Review
“There’s a radical honesty and warmth in these essays, no matter the topic.”
-- Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh and Queen of the Night
“Threaded together by prose that is at once tender and disarming, Morgan Jerkins’s debut collection is an invitation to conversation with a ferocious intellect and a singular, uncompromising voice. In essays that confront the forces of anti-blackness and misogyny, Jerkins demonstrates that being unflinching does not require that we be unmoved. Readers who encounter this debut will be hard-pressed not to have felt something shifted within themselves when they put it down.”
-- Alana Massey, author of All the Lives I Want
“Jerkins is one of the smartest young writers of her generation, and this is an insightful, revelatory collection of personal essays about a variety of today’s important issues. So fantastic.”
“Jerkins’ forthright examination of her own experiences leads to a triumphant reclaiming of blackness in all its power.”
“Jerkins’s debut collection of essays forces readers to reckon with the humanity black women have consistently been denied. Her writing is personal, inviting, and fearless as she explores the racism and sexism black women face in America... [a] gorgeous and powerful collection.”
-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Jerkins has strong character, and This Will Be My Undoing is likely just the beginning of her influence on the role of black women in the United States. As she is careful to point out, she is just one voice and her story doesn’t speak for all black women, but with any luck her one voice will inspire other voices to add to the chorus of change.”
-- Shelf Awareness