“You should’ve known I was coming.” — Morgan Jerkins
In late 2016 the writing of Morgan Jerkins, a phenom who orchestrated phrases with amazing fervor and openness, slammed upon my literary landscape like a Sikhote-Alin meteorite. She’d been around for a minute, I’d later learn, as I Googled her name and scrolled through a canon of her articles and blogs as far back as 2014, but, as I had just become familiar, she was [for me] a welcomed fresh face and a new beautiful mind.
It was Jerkins’ lyrical sensibilities, word-aerobics, approach to common themes and colorful social nuances with artistic insight that separated her from the massive ensemble of similar writers. I was encapsulated within her comfortable literary cocoon. In articles from Buzzfeed, Catapult, and Fusion (just to name a few), Jerkins (not Jenkins) gives a head-first dive into her transparent world and in doing so made us better, even if we didn’t know we needed to be.
In her debut and eagerly anticipated book, “This Will Be My Undoing,” Morgan opens a glass door into a place you’d want to linger past closing hours, just to ensure that nothing is missed. She begins with confessions that in this age of Black Girls Rock and Black Girl Magic would certainly raise a few eyebrows. She writes:
“When I was ten, the only thing I wanted was to be a white cheerleader. Bone straight hair. Thin nose. Saccharine voice. Slender body. ”
“When I was ten, I realized that I was black. In some ways, that had nothing to do with actual cheerleading, but rather with what blackness meant, writ large, learned from the experience of trying to force myself into this pristine, white, and coveted space, which spit me out before I could realize how much I had been abused.
The detail of this opening is vital to the content of the book. Although racial issues (Jerkins says she was accepted more by the white girls than by the black and brown girls but in time that changed) are not the basis of every essay, it does linger in the wings, entering like an apparition, to prepare Jerkins for the real world, her world, and a series of ‘uncheery’ cheerleading (read social) try-outs. But Jerkins doesn’t allow the past to completely color her present. Instead, she uses the experience to rain observations and truths upon the pages of “This Will Be My Undoing” with enough force and fervor to make the reader quiver. Indeed there were many moments when my progressive mind was shaken. Morgan, although small in stature, is mammoth. She is a force shouting from a Harlem brownstone, Princeton classroom, Russian square, and New Jersey high school, shouting phrases that are usually whispered behind glass doors.
Morgan Jerkins writes of being different, sometimes in a manner that is self-depreciating, searching, longing, and uplifting. She is different. She is mesmerizing. She is a welcoming warm gust and a needed cool breeze. Never quite fitting the pre-requisites of social popularity, she, throughout her entries, was always searching for her place. As one of few African-Americans on the campus of Princeton, for example, she found an odd alienation, of sorts, from the Black men. Perhaps it was a matter of association, climbing the proverbial ladder of success, or being accepted by a culture that could uplift them to higher heights, that kept these men distant. Her relationships with men materialized from daisy fields and butterflies to post-date rides on the last train home; lovely and initially tranquil, but lonely. It could have been because of her, or them, or both. It may simply have been… Too bad for those guys.
But Jerkins brilliantly and beautifully finds that place, in the printed word and through passionate thought, where she is whole and becomes, in essence, a veritable juggernaut. She writes of relatable issues, human matters that beat upon the brow of the common and uncommon. Jerkins treads with a heavy foot along paths that many fear to tread, detailing events that keep the pages turning and the readers hungry. Her essays cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are academic, real-world, and foreboding, changing her tone from chapter to chapter (often at the end), showing that, like a jazz musician, she’s got chops. There are moments when she sounds like (forgive this comparison) Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City), cosmopolitan, hip, contemplative and impassioned, then there are the other moments when she delves into the arena of the bards, thunderous and commanding; professorial.
“This Will Be My Undoing,” is a huge undertaking, much more profound and prolific than a review could possibly relay. In it, Jerkins gives an amazing ride on a Ferris Wheel full of ups and downs, highs and lows (from childhood to adulthood). She pulls at the reader’s heartstrings in one piece then has them longing to reevaluate themselves. From her very beginning — from those articles and blogs that captured the attention of multitudes– Jerkins was on a journey to the fantastic creation of this book. She hinted and warned us, and in the end, she climatically states: “Surprise. You should’ve known I was coming.” Surprise, Morgan. We are glad you came.