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story behind the book | kate tuttle

Shouldering the burden of community

david wilson for the boston globe

Morgan Jerkins’s first book, “This Will Be My Undoing,” is an essay collection that ranges from intimate stories about childhood, religion, and sexuality to broader cultural criticism on topics of race, gender, politics, and power. When asked whether she always knew the book would be so energetic and ambitious, the 25-year-old author said, “Yes! I was just so happy that I was given the opportunity to write about black womanhood. When I started writing it, I thought, ‘I cannot hold back on this. I only have one time to be a debut author.’ ”

Jerkins, a graduate of Princeton with an MFA from Bennington, began her writing life in fiction. “I started to write as a way to obscure myself,” she said. “I just wanted a place where I could create new worlds.”


But in “This Will Be My Undoing,” Jerkins confronts the real world and her own real life — including deeply private aspects of growing up black and female, confronting racism, sexism, her Christian upbringing, family secrets, and community fault lines. At times, Jerkins was surprised by her own daring.

“I’m not always a confident person in public,” she said. “I waver a lot, especially when it comes to my appearance. But I think writing in my home, where no one’s around, I do feel the most confident.”

“Many times I thought as I was writing, ‘I am popping a bubble; I am violating all the sacred spaces in which I’ve grown up, whether it’s the church, the kitchen table, my mother’s bedroom,’ ” Jerkins said. “When you’re a black female writer,” she added, “you’re not just writing for yourself, you’re thinking of all the black girls and women who you’d grown up with who wouldn’t dare say any of these things, not even to themselves.”

Jerkins will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at Harvard Book Store.


Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at