Morgan Parker is American poet, novelist, and editor and the author of the poetry collections Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (2015), There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce (2017), and Magical Negro (2019), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award poetry prize. Alongside poet Angel Nafis, she runs The Other Black Girl Collective, an internationally touring Black Feminist poetry duo.
She sat down with The Cheeky Natives in an extensive conversation to discuss her poetry collection Magical Negro. The conversation took place during the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, in Parker’s first visit to South Africa.
In what may only be described as a sermon, lecture and a hallelujah moment, Parker took us to church while reading from this collection.
The New York Times describes this collection as, “a work that explores the gap between black experience and the white imagination’s version of it”. What an apt description, if only lacking in a description of the vividness and clarity with which Parker captures the chasm between the lived experience of Blackness and the mirage created by privilege.
The title is a popular reference to the trope of a Black character who appears to almost always assist a white character using strange, sometimes supernatural wisdom. However, what Parker does in using these characters to challenge white supremacy’s multiple violence against black womxnhood and its limited imagining of Blackness.
Straddling the contemporary and classic, in ways mirroring that of the Black experience, where one lives in multiple ages affected by the issues of their predecessors. In her poem “Now More Than Ever, “defining the title phrase as something whites say “to express their surprise / and disapproval of social or political conditions which, / to the Negro, are devastatingly usual.” In the age of diversity and inclusivity, Parker’s poem is an ode to the eye roll all black people have done at white liberal catchphrases such as this.
A recurring theme is the invisibility and hypervisibility of Black women, as with “Magical Negro #3: The Strong Black Woman,” whose title character is sexualised to the point that the speaker suggests assaulting her, then says, “She / won’t feel nothing.” A powerful commentary on the assault on the humanity of black women contained in statements like “The Strong Black Woman”
Morgan Parker is prodigious. This podcast may be the beginning of a powerful conversation about the work and words of Black people.