Morgan Parker’s third poetry collection, “Magical Negro,” includes works about everything from Eartha Kitt to the television show “Scandal” to the poet’s own sex life. Much like her previous collection, “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé,” the new book’s title is media-savvy, assertive, and complex.
“First of all I kind of was surprised that there’s not already a book with that title!” Parker said. The idea of a magical negro, she added, “was really created by white media. Every time a magical negro figure enters a movie or a novel it’s presented in a very flat way. The figure kind of appears, solves the problem or comforts someone, and then disappears.” Never does that kind of character enjoy the kind of well-rounded identity white characters do.
“I really wanted to investigate that idea of the magical negro and think about what I would call magical negroes from my perspective as a black person,” Parker added. “I also wanted to look into this idea of being magic, which can be empowering but also really dehumanizing in a way.” In particular, she said, “the idea of the strong black woman” makes it easy “to dismiss the actual pain and struggle of a human body. I have skin and heart and a brain; I’m not a superhero. The magic is in the humanity.”
Choosing the term as her book’s title, Parker said, not only allowed her to reclaim and explore the concept, it also helped her pull together poems about a wide range of ideas and images, from the deeply personal to the pop cultural. “Poetry books are written in weird ways,” she said. “It was a helpful map or guide in collecting these poems that are touching on lots of different and seemingly disparate things — not only to play with the idea of magical negroes, but also creating my own roster, my cultural touchpoints that have helped me build my identity and my idea of blackness.”
Parker will read at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.
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Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at email@example.com.