In “Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots,” Morgan Jerkins explores a transformative era in American history, when some 6 million Black Americans left the South between 1916 to 1970 by following her own family’s journey. This is her second book. Her debut essay collection, “This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America” was a New York Times bestseller. She is a senior editor at Zora, an online publication for women of color. She lives in Harlem in New York City.
BOOKS: What have you been reading during the pandemic?
JERKINS: I’ve read things that have to do with the gig economy, like the novel “Temporary” by Hilary Leichter. I’m into narratives about what people do to make ends meet, which is what a lot of millennials do these days. I’ve also been reading personal essays like “This is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope” by Shayla Lawson and “Culture Warlords” by Talia Lavin, which is about white supremacy.
BOOKS: How else has the pandemic influenced your reading?
JERKINS: I have not read as much because I don’t like reading in the house. There are too many things that can distract me. I like reading on buses, trains, cars, and planes, not on my couch. Before the pandemic I traveled with two books in my tote. Sometimes I would take the bus rather than the train to work because it took longer, and I would make more headway on a book.
BOOKS: What have been some of your favorite bus reads?
JERKINS: “The Collected Schizophrenias” by Esmé Weijun Wang, “Hunger” by Roxane Gay, “Men We Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward. I will read anything she writes. I almost missed my stop while I was reading the personal essay collection “So Sad Today” by Melissa Broder. I was so blindsided by her honesty I was gone. I also read when I get braids, which takes five to six hours. I read “Not That Kind of Girl” by Lena Dunham in one session. When I graduated from Bennington, I went to the Bahamas by myself. I took “Beauty Is a Wound” by Eka Kurniawan. It was my anchor while I was there. Every time I see that book I think of the Bahamas and the ocean.
BOOKS: Have you always been an avid reader?
JERKINS: I started reading early but by my preteen years I didn’t find many books that resonated for me. It wasn’t until my senior year when I took AP English and had a choice of what to read that I started to like literature. I studied comparative literature at Princeton.
BOOKS: What are some of your least and most favorite classics?
JERKINS: I don’t understand why “Catcher in the Rye” is so well regarded. I just don’t care about white teenage angst. I don’t like “The Great Gatsby” but I understand why it’s iconic for its time. I studied late-19th-century Russian literature and post-World War II Japanese literature. I loved Dostoevsky. I loved Kobo Abe, who wrote, “The Woman in the Dunes” and “The Face of Another,” and Osamu Dazai, who wrote “No Longer Human.” I love these authors because they deal with the fractured self and how people take on a modernizing world. I ate that stuff up.
BOOKS: Who are the writers you wish were better known?
JERKINS: The poets Safiya Sinclair, Roya Marsh, and Yrsa Daley-Ward. They are known but I want people to know more about them. Also Kerri Greenidge, a historian in Boston, who wrote a book about the Black radical and journalist William Trotter, and Elizabeth Hinton at Harvard, who’s written about mass incarceration.
BOOKS: Is there any way you’d like to change as a reader?
JERKINS: I want to read books that are way out there, like “Folio Columns” by Luca Turin, which is about perfume. I loved it. You have to be inventive with language to describe smell. I want to dive into my obsessions beyond a quick Internet search. I don’t know why but I’ve gotten interested in animals during the pandemic. It was like bees and then dogs. Now I’m interested in beavers. What if I buy a book about beavers?
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’' and she can be reached at email@example.com.