Doing It My Way

How Author Joan Morgan Raised Her Son to Be a Feminist

The pioneering writer of ‘When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost’ says you can’t just write about your feminism. You must also live it.

Christina M. Tapper
ZORA
Published in
12 min readOct 1, 2020

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A selfie of Joan Morgan smiling while wearing smoky eye makeup.
Joan Morgan, courtesy of herself.

In her writing, Joan Morgan tells it like it is. Her 1999 debut book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, introduced readers to Morgan’s raw honesty as she explored the humanity and complexities of Black womanhood. With it, she gave us the term “hip-hop feminism” to carve out an identity for the “post-civil rights, post-feminist, post-soul” generation. After publishing the path-breaking book, the Jamaica-born, Bronx-bred writer penned the unabashed composition Why We Get Off: Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure and delivered frank cultural analysis with She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

In conversation, she is just as candid. Morgan, who earned a PhD and joined NYU’s Institute of African American Affairs as the program director of its Center for Black Visual Culture this year, spoke to ZORA about her relationship with hip-hop feminism today, the male reactions to “WAP,” and how she raised her son to embrace feminism.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ZORA: It’s been more than 20 years since you published When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. How has your feminism evolved?

Joan Morgan: The biggest way to sum that up is that I think I really needed hip-hop as an entry point, in a way that I don’t need it now. Now, when people ask me, “Are you a feminist?” I don’t correct them and say I’m a hip-hop feminist. I just say I’m a feminist because I have a lot less tension with the title than I did when I wrote Chickenheads. I think I was really trying to work some stuff out back then. Also, I wasn’t a feminist scholar when I wrote Chickenheads. So I think that I was right to write Chickenheads in certain ways, but I had no idea when I wrote that book that it was going to enter into a canon of Black feminist literature or scholarship. So that meant when that happened slowly — it was very slow, it was not immediate — I really had to familiarize myself with that canon and know it. Respect it. I know a…

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Christina M. Tapper
ZORA
Writer for

Rule breaker, champion of women and education, and recovering sports journalist.