“I Can’t Sanitize Who I Am”: An Interview With Author Morgan Jerkins

Salomé Gómez-Upegui
7 min readMar 9, 2019

This Will Be My Undoing (Harper Perennial) is an essay collection that has been receiving praise even before it was published, and rightly so. The debut of Harlem-based writer Morgan Jerkins (who by the way is in her twenties) is radically honest, impeccably written, and spectacularly smart.

I felt honored for this opportunity to speak with the author about writing her first book, taking risks, and making it as a New York Times bestseller, all while staying true to herself.

Salomé Gómez-Upegui: I could not put down your book, and one reason I think it was so interesting was that I really felt the honesty & freedom you conveyed in each essay. Is writing a liberating experience for you?

Morgan Jerkins: Absolutely. I mean I started writing because I was being bullied and harassed pretty much every day in high school. I didn’t really know how else to deal with it, and I wasn’t going to retaliate because I assumed that it would lead to a physical altercation, I’d never been in one, and I really didn’t trust whatever I’d do with my hands! (laughs) So I started writing as a way to create new worlds and new characters in which I could seek refuge. I found it as a source of healing. I also think it’s liberating because as I write personally about my life, it feels like there’s always going to be documentation that I was here on earth, even though physically I will not be, so its kind of liberating to have this constant.

How did you feel after finishing the final draft of your first book?

Aw, man! I was so tired. I didn’t take care of myself really while I was writing this book. And what I mean by that is that I treated myself like I was a cadet at West Point. If I had to use to the bathroom or if I was hungry, I didn’t get up until I had at least a thousand words on the page. I told myself, ‘you have to work the hardest you can work because there are so many other writers who would love to be in your shoes. You’re young, you don’t have children, and you don’t have a mortgage, you’re healthy -thank God- so you don’t really have a choice!’

Do you feel like you’re writing for yourself? Or is there an audience that you’re connected to and who you’re also doing this for?