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January 30, 2018

Book Notes - Morgan Jerkins "This Will Be My Undoing"

This Will Be My Undoing

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Morgan Jerkins' smart and moving essay collection This Will Be My Undoing is one of the year's most important books.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"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."

In her own words, here is Morgan Jerkins' Book Notes music playlist for her essay collection This Will Be My Undoing:

"Weary" by Solange

Oh, Solange. How could I NOT include her on this music playlist for This Will Be My Undoing? While there are so many heavy hitters on A Seat At The Table album, I think "Weary" encapsulates a lot of emotions that run through my essay collection: tiredness, disenchantment, weariness. What does one do when the world becomes too much, when no matter what you do you cannot escape its ways?

"Drew Barrymore" by SZA

One of the most difficult topics to write about in my book was about my insecurities around men and dating. I never knew if I was good enough and I obsessed over whether or not I was too much [fill in the blank here]. If you listen to this song, you'll hear how SZA elucidates many of these points, that being the amount of emotional labor devoted to how much we feel as though we don't fit a certain man's desire.

"Human Nature" by Michael Jackson

You know, I never really understand what this song was about. All I knew is that I loved the melody; the tune relaxes me. But upon closer inspection, I realized that this song is a metaphor for New York City! Before I lived in New York, I mythologized the metropolis and all it could do for me and my life. I devote ample space in my book about the...adventures of becoming a Harlemite so I thought this song was very appropriate.

"Pretty Hurts" by Beyoncé

God, this song. I think the title speaks for itself. Beauty is such a terrorizing force in our lives, isn't it? We strive for perfection but that journey is Sisyphean. Still, we keep trying to find balance. Or at least I do. I didn't start believing in my beauty until last year and when I write about my personal struggles especially as a child, so much of it maintains an undercurrent of fear that I'm not pretty enough, or rather, that my prettiness is not aligned enough to whiteness.

"Sullen Girl" by Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple is a masterful songwriter and I'll admit that it was very difficult for me to choose one song of hers. But I think "Sullen Girl" vividly portrays what it's like to be misunderstood and how, like she says, you don't know what to do with yourself. I believe that's why I write, to be honest. I feel like I can't clarify who I am or what I'm thinking unless I document all of my thoughts onto the page. This Will Be My Undoing is a way for me to make sense of myself and the world or at least investigate how I navigate throughout this precious life of mines, contradictions, hypocrisies, and all.

"Bâtard" by Stromae

If you haven't already, you need to get into Stromae. He's one of the most innovative artists working today, no exaggeration. This song is about the dichotomy of identity and the absence of a middle ground, which is extremely fitting for Stromae since he's half black and white, a man yet very androgynous at times. When it comes to people of marginalized backgrounds, often times our identity markers are already set for us and yet how do we reclaim them? How do we reconcile what might be two opposing sides?

"Cold War" by Janelle Monae

Piggybacking off of "Bâtard," "Cold War" is another song about conflict, although the latter is more about the inner conflict. How does one fight and resist? What is one fighting and resisting? I think about this song a lot because it's so powerful and heavy. From the tempo to Janelle's voice, everything just builds and builds and builds.

"Four Women" by Nina Simone

I think "Four Women" might be the song that is most equivalent to This Will Be My Undoing. Four black women are singing about their lives, each narrative demonstrates the effects of slavery. Each woman is different but their stories are linked and it reminds me of how black women are not monoliths and yet what we deal with is linked to one another. As a writer, I cannot speak for anyone but myself but I do hope that I at least showed other layers to extremely touchy subjects to further the point of how multitudinous black women are.

"Kicks" by FKA Twigs

So. This song is about masturbation. It's about not waiting away for a man to satisfy her because her touch is enough to get her off. Learning how to masturbate is something I….very explicitly detail in my book. But this song, as well as those passages, are more than that. It's about taking my sexuality in my own hands and not waiting for one Hollywoodesqe moment to liberate me in a sense. I learned that I am enough, that I cannot wait for anyone to teach me. I must teach myself because no one will know me as well as I can know myself.

"Golden" by Jill Scott

My upbeat black girl anthem. I love me some Jill Scott. Although I tend to lean towards her sultry and erotic tunes, "Golden" is about one's personal freedom to do whatever she wants and "live life like it's golden." Because despite the weariness of the world, the painfulness of beauty, the sullenness, or the coldness of the world, there is still joy in being able to make a choice, and that autonomy for a black woman is a damn good one.

Morgan Jerkins and This Will Be My Undoing links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Salon review

Boston Globe profile of the author
New Jersey Monthly profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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