Author Morgan Harper Nichols Says Healing, Rest, and Play a Practice of Black Resistance

In an interview with Kindred, the Instagram poet and author of All Along You Were Blooming and Peace is a Practice talks about Black history, her Southern upbringing, and giving grace to ourselves.

Morgan Harper Nichols Headshot
Photo: Morgan Harper Nichols

Instagram poet, artist, and author Morgan Harper Nichols is a multimedia artist whose Southern upbringing encouraged her to lean into the complexity of life. She was raised with a curiosity of the past—a quality that was intensified by sharing a birthday with Rosa Parks.

She's found herself connected to other Black greats and creatives as well. Harper Nichols's mother homeschooled her, educating her on the dynamic history or landmarks, like Stone Mountain's mention in Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I've created tons of poetry and art. Yes, there's this beauty, but there's also this rich and sometimes complicated history that came from that from the very ground that I stand on," she says. "I think it's because it was instilled in me as a kid, I'm aware that I am standing on native land. I'm aware when I'm in the South that I am standing on land that used to be a plantation. And that it wasn't long ago that I couldn't just stand here and write a poem."

But she was in her twenties before she realized that perspective would connect her to millions. She fell in love with the ingenuity of Black creatives, like Langston Hughes, Alma Thomas, and Tracy Chapman. Harper Nichols believes to honor the full humanity of Black communities we must acknowledge the pain and trauma of racism without neglecting examples of Black joy that surrounds us—much of which came from Black creatives. She carries those legacies, and the belief that imagination and creativity are a portal to the peace and empathy we need to change the world, in her art and in her efforts to raise her son.

In an interview with Kindred by Parents.com, Harper Nichols, whose latest book Peace is a Practice is available now, shares her personal story growing up in the South and encourages others to find "healing in your own personal story."

In addition to Rosa Parks, what other Black figures inform your work?

February 1st was Langston Hughes' birthday— he's a poet that I, among many others, really love. I was reflecting on some of his work recently. Langston Hughes took from the tradition of poetry, but then he made it his own and said 'I'm going to abstract this a little bit. I'm going to take this from the way that people are writing and I'm gonna expand on this more and the fact that we're still connecting with that today'. It's huge to me.

I have The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes that shows what inspired him to write particular poems. He talks about how The Bitter River was inspired by 14-year-old teens Charlie Lang and Ernest Green who were lynched over Chickasawhay River in Mississippi. For someone who's superficially looking and seeing, 'Oh, he's writing this beautiful poem about rivers.' But for Langston Hughes, it was so much more than just the rivers. He's honoring these boys' lives with this poem. He's definitely a huge influence to me in that way for sure.

Morgan Harper Nichols

I think that unmerited favor is very important for a group of people like us, who have worked hard and been unpaid or underpaid for a big chunk of our legacy. It can't be said enough that we are worthy of love, support, and rest. We're worthy of joy and beautiful things, without having to work for it all the time.

—Morgan Harper Nichols

Much of your work emphasizes grace. Why is it essential that Black folks have grace with themselves during these trying times?

A definition of grace that I really like is unmerited favor. I think that unmerited favor is very important for a group of people like us, who have worked hard and been unpaid or underpaid for a big chunk of our legacy. It can't be said enough that we are worthy of love, support, and rest. We're worthy of joy and beautiful things, without having to work for it all the time.

That's why in my art— and how I speak to even my friends, my family, and even my child— I say we have to give grace for ourselves to try to find more things that bring us joy because that hasn't been something that we've been given, historically. We have to create more room to care for ourselves and care for each other and create more joy, peace and love and support. And a lot of that comes through grace, giving grace to ourselves, even if other people aren't giving it to you.

How can Black families use creative energy and art to move toward healing?

Our family recently bought some kid paints, and I said we're gonna sit here and we're all just gonna paint. And before I knew it, my husband was sitting there painting, like, its own little canvas and getting really into it. And even doing that activity together as a family, it was so healing and in a way a form of resistance. We deserve rest. We deserve play. And we deserve to be able to have creative expression. And I think a lot of it's finding the simple things, getting as simple as you can even going outside and collecting some rocks.

How do you see yourself, and your story, fitting into the legacy of Black history?

I hope to be an example to others, especially other Black autistic creators. I really do, because I think that it's hard to find them. Getting diagnosed made such a difference in my life. If I could inspire somebody else through everything I've been through to show them that there's room for you—people may have called you weird growing up or quirky or whatever, a lot of us get called— but there's room for us too.

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