‘I Wasn’t Taught Certain Things About My Ancestors’

ZORA’s own Morgan Jerkins in conversation with novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge

Kaitlyn Greenidge


Photo treatment of a close-up photo of Morgan Jerkins against a violet-colored map of the Great Migration in the background.
Photo illustration; Image source: Sylvie Rosokoff, Wikimedia Commons

Morgan Jerkins is a prophet who deals with the past. Whether it’s the uncomfortable stories of a Black suburban childhood and adolescence she describes in her debut essay collection This Will Be My Undoing, or the pieces of Black history she works to uncover in her journalism, or the forgotten stories she highlights as an editor for ZORA magazine, the throughline in Jerkins’ work is finding ways to reckon with past events and amplify their echoes in the present.

Nowhere is that clearer than in her new book Wandering in Strange Lands, which traces her family’s journeys across America before, during, and after the Great Migration. These travels took her to Creole country in Louisiana, the Gullah Islands in South Carolina, and the Black settlements in Oklahoma, among other places. Along the way, she uncovered testimonies that complicate our understanding of Blackness, the lives of enslaved people, and the places we call home. I spoke with Jerkins ahead of her book’s publication to talk about these issues and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Kaitlyn Greenidge: Right now, there’s a lot of conversations happening around our ancestries