Morgan Parker On Using Beyoncé To Explore Black Womanhood

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

The inside scoop on ‘There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé’

In celebration of Black History Month, NYLON is running a spotlight series called UNAPOLOGETIC. Every day, we’ll celebrate different aspects of black culture through profiles, interviews, roundtables, reviews, videos, and op-eds. #Blacklivesmatter and we hold that truth to be self-evident. 

All eyes are currently on Morgan Parker and her newly released poetry book, There Are More Beautiful Things Than BeyoncéThe collection has been five years in the making with around 50 poems featured in the volume. Despite this being Parker's second book, she wasn't set on being a poet her entire life. Parker didn't find her calling for poetry until she was an adult when it became an important tool for her to articulate her thoughts.

"When people think of poetry, they're not thinking about my work," she says. "It doesn't rhyme, it's not pleasant... I think that people have this idea of poetry with a capital P that is very outdated, and it's white, very male, and very digestible. That's not the power of poetry—the power of poetry is to be able to respond to real life and to politics and to one's body and the most intimate thoughts; to render it in a way that is surprising and sonically interesting, and allowing the reader to feel playful in language, and to push the limits of what language can do. I think there's so much about that tradition of poetry that is problematic, and we don't think of black womanhood as something that's reflected in poetry. So, even that feels subversive."

Many of the poems featured in There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé were written when Parker was a graduate student at NYU, where she received an MFA in poetry. A majority of this body of work comments on popular culture while also tying in Parker's own family history. Other pieces capture the landscape of Parker's hometown in southern California, the only place she knew before abandoning it to earn her bachelor's in anthropology and creative writing at Columbia University. Overall, the book provides commentary on the vision of a black woman's place in America.

"It's been a long journey with these [poems]. It's sad to lose an era," she says. "It was fun to be in this place where anytime there was Beyoncé news, a million people would email me and be like, 'Where's the poem about this?' I think it is notable that I've been working on it for so long, so some of the more recent Beyoncé happenings aren't referenced here because the book was already done and the era of Beyoncé that I was writing into is so different than now."

Also a renowned essayist, Parker published a piece in the New York Times after the presidential election in 2016, titled "How To Stay Sane While Black," which touched on the stigma against mental health in the black community and her personal battle with depression and anxiety.

"I felt so much shame growing up with my depression. It was like a secret, and it really took a very, very dark moment for me to actually go to a therapist and get diagnosed, but after that, it still was like a secret... There was so much shame," she says. "[My parents] always ask me if it was their fault, and it was really confusing and hard for everyone. For that reason, I will never stop talking about it. I think it's important now to normalize as much as possible. Why should I feel ashamed of my illness? That's crazy. Why should I also not want to get better? Why should I suffer? I think there's so much that society's doing to tell us that we should suffer, that we deserve it even, and I think that it's important for me to insist that, no, I don't need to suffer and to convey that and to reach the right people. I was just writing what I needed to hear."

Learn more about how Parker gained the skills to make a career out of creative expression in the interview, below.

When did you start to develop an interest in poetry? How did you initially get involved with this craft?
It's actually really interesting. I hated poetry for most of my life. I'm kind of new to it in the scheme of things, and I think that it's just because the poetry we're taught in high school is so boring. I didn't feel like it related to me. I've always been interested in writing. I tried to write fiction when I was a kid, but poetry didn't feel relevant at all, and it wasn't until I took a college class in contemporary poetry that I realized what a poem could be and what you're allowed to say in a poem and how you're allowed to say it; that really was a moment when I connected with the craft. There's something about poetry that is more in line with the way that our brains actually work. We don't think in sentences. We think in memories and images and thoughts that kind of jump around from one thing to another—it's not necessarily linear. So poetry has this way of being able to capture that better than prose can, though I do write both things. I really hated poetry for most of my life, so it is kind of interesting that I'm now a poet. I still don't like a lot of poetry. I get bored easily, and I am not interested in reading poems about the woods or whatever. I don't know what a pasture is. So, I think the way that I have tried to focus my craft is writing poems that feel relevant to me and my life and reflective of that.

How were your experiences in academia valuable for someone pursuing a creative career?
In undergrad, I double majored in creative writing and anthropology, and that was really essential, looking back on it. Studying anthropology and reading theory and thinking about observation of oneself and of others is really essential to my writing practice. I wasn't able to articulate it at the time, but for some reason, I think of the two as very, very linked, this idea of cultural anthropology and literature. Being able to be immersed in a lot of different types of texts has really helped my writing career and to shape my work. When I got my MFA, it kind of felt like the next reasonable thing. I didn't know what an MFA was when I was in college and a professor of mine was like, "Oh this a thing you can do, and it will give you the time that you need to work on a manuscript." So, when I went into my MFA, I actually had quite low expectations. Taking writing workshops was not about learning how to write, it's more about really having that space and being able to be committed to it. So, basically just the fact that my whole job really for the two years of getting my MFA: to write and to read. Of course, I was working at the time, but that was the focus. So to be able to learn how to practice that is regular and sustained. I think that was really the lesson of my MFA, and it also gave me the time and space and colleagues that allowed me to write my first book.

How did that feel the first time you published a book?
Surreal. I've always wanted to be a writer, but I hated poetry and didn't see myself as a poet, so, of course, I wasn't thinking about it as being a book of poetry with a small press. I don't know. It was something I hadn't expected for my life in that way, but it was fun. I feel like everyone I've ever known was [at my book launch]. Because it was my first book, some of the first poems I ever wrote were in that book, and it just felt like the culmination of a lot of different things. It's scary, putting a book out there. My poems are really personal, so I had to kind of quickly get over that and have my parents be okay with that, but I think the fear is worth it.

Let's talk about There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé. What made you decide on that title?
So, there is a poem in the book and that's part of the title for that poem and I kind of went back and forth on whether or not to name the book that and I did it for fun. I don't know, it's definitely something that gets people's attention, and I like that part of it, pulling people in. I like calling out the fact that the book is going to be an exploration around pop culture, but it also feels a little bit false; like it isn't a book about Beyoncé and even the poem that mentioned Beyoncé or have her name in the title or whatever are not hers—they're all me. So, it is a little bit of a trick. I keep saying, people are going to see the cover and be excited and be like, "Oh this is fun. This is a book about poems about Beyoncé!" And they're going to open it, and it's just going to be my sadness. There's a little bit of a trick there, but there's a playfulness to that; there's a playfulness in going ahead and leading with that title. I felt a little bit of concern at first like, what does it mean to invoke Beyoncé? Even in the title of the book, do I want that? Why not? I'm the type of person that if someone says that maybe I shouldn't do something, I'm probably going to do it. So, that was one of my things were my friends were like, "Well, maybe it could be More Beautiful Things" or "Maybe you shouldn't put it in the title," so I was like, "Well, guess I'll do it."

Are you anxious at all about the potential of the Beyhive coming for you?
I mean, I encourage them all to read the book before [judging]. I actually rewrote the jacket copy for the book, because people were coming up to me and being like, "I don't think you're right. There aren't more beautiful people." And I'm like, "Okay, but the things that I mention that could possibly be more beautiful than Beyoncé are, like education and the sky." I don't think that she would argue with that. It's not like I'm saying Beyoncé is not beautiful. I think people need to take a step back and see it for the reality. It's not a diss on Beyoncé, the poems don't intend to do that, but they also aren't praise. It's complicated and complex, and that's what's fun about it. I have been assured that I won't get sued, so that's good, but I'm open to having these conversations. I'm not interested in people rushing to judgment or conclusions. I'm super interested in having conversations and talking about all the complexities that I raise in the book.

The thing to remember is, it is a book of poetry. This is not a book that is pop cultural analysis or anything like that. That is in the poem, but it is a creative work. I talk about pop culture a lot in my work, but only so much as it bolsters the poem and the more intimate moments in the book. So, I really feel that it's a tool. For all intents and purposes, the Beyoncé in the book is not Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. It's a reflection, an image, it's a symbol, a metaphor, and I think that once people can kind of sign on to that idea, that's kind of where the magic happens and where you can have the most fun with these poems.

I'd love to talk more about the content of your book and these poems. I've read on the site that it centers on the idea of the 21st-century black woman in America and all of those different types of experiences and feelings and ideas on femininity and racism and politics. Could you expand on that?
I just want [people] to realize that the center of the book was this kind of statement on black American womanhood. I wanted then to bring in as many visions of that as possible. It's really about the multiplicity. It's about the fact that we are contradictions—we are so complex, and on one hand, you can be totally praised for your body and the way that you take up space, and at the same time, you can be totally defaced. I think that there are these dichotomies that we all hold in us; we've been subjugated but also are powerful. These are the undertones that I wanted to play with, so the book moves around a lot. The speaker is sometimes super vulnerable, the speaker is sometimes very, very tough, and I think it was important for me to walk that line of all of the different emotions and all the different women that we are. It's playing a role—everyday you're a different woman in the world and responding to a lot of different political moments and pop cultural moments; being in different spaces, like in a classroom of white academics versus being with your girls. It's a lot of that. I wanted to make sure that I captured all of us and everything that we are. I get really frustrated by renderings of black women that are flat or one-sided, so I wanted to create and represent a black woman in this book that is whole and broken and funny and strong and all the things. It really felt important for me to bring in a lot of different voices, which is why I kind of reference not only Beyoncé but also song lyrics and other pop cultural characters, as well as voices of my friends and visual artists and visions; I really tried to conjure a lot of different people and voices within the book.

You also make references to jazz, hip-hop, visual arts, and your own family history. 
It feels important to kind of gather up everything. I think about writing these poems as a way of archiving how I felt, what I laughed at, what I cried about, who was there with me, and what I was watching and listening to, and all of that. It's kind of a living document in that way.

What types of reactions are you hoping to get from readers with this book?
I want people to feel that they have permission. I want people to feel that, because I kind of put everything out there, they can then take that as permission to really express themselves and know themselves and to be proud of themselves and to heal themselves, because you need to have that permission. I want to be someone who says, "Hey, it's okay, and you can do whatever you want. You can say what you're really thinking." I want to embolden people.

Photo by Rachel Dennis


"What do girls even do together?" This question, or some iteration of it, is frequently posed to me once someone finds out I'm bisexual or hears me mention my girlfriend, or if I make any reference to being interested in girls. I would be annoyed by it, but I have empathy because I know how hard this kind of information can be to find. In fact, the details of how two people with vaginas have sex isn't very widespread information. And, I know that I didn't really have all that much information about girl-on-girl sex before, well, actually having it myself. It's precisely this kind of situation that queer sex educator Stevie Boebi is trying to fix.

Boebi has gained a big following for her informational YouTube videos about how to use a strap-on, how to scissor, how to fist someone, how to choose a vibrator for yourself; any question you could have, she will get you an answer. She doesn't shy away from topics that people wouldn't be quick to ask someone about IRL, either, like BDSM. And she covers the kind of things that are definitely not what we're taught in sex education classes—likely not even in the most progressive curriculums. A study from GLSEN notes that only 4 percent of teens reported learning anything positive about queer sex in their sex ed classes, and points out that in some states, it's actually prohibited to mention queerness at all.

Particularly when it comes to sex with two vaginas, the lack of available public education leads to a general lack of understanding of how we have sex, which then leads to a lack of understanding in the queer community, too. "I just think that lesbian sex is so oversexualized, and we're the least educated," said Boebi when I asked her recently why it's so important for her to spread knowledge about queer sex in particular.

Boebi said that she started out on YouTube making videos about technology, but after she came out as a lesbian, her audience flipped from mostly male to mostly female, though she would prefer a less rudimentary gender breakdown ("the algorithm only deals in binaries, sorry," she quipped).

Ultimately, her sexuality led her to change her content entirely, because she wanted to educate people who couldn't find answers to their questions anywhere else—even on the internet.

"I started getting a lot of what I called 'stupid questions' from very confused teenage girls saying, like, 'How do I do it? Can I get AIDs from fingering someone?'" Boebi told me. They were questions that probably should have had easily Google-able answers, but, when Boebi looked for lesbian sex education content to send to fans who were asking her, she came up empty-handed. "I couldn't find anything. I think I found, like, two articles on Autostraddle, and that was it," she said. "And then I was like, Well, shit! If no one else is going to do it, then I guess I will."

Boebi's audience is mainly comprised of 13- to 24-year-olds, so she keeps in mind that she's helping people who may not be experienced, or even out yet. She uses her own experiences to inform her work sometimes, but also researches extensively and talks to people she knows who "have fancy Ph.Ds in sexology and shit," who can answer her questions or point her to resources she should be referencing.

Boebi's charm is in her relatability; even if she's talking about things we've been conditioned to feel shame around, she does it in such an open and honest way that all that shame disappears—as it should. She does this by perfectly meshing professional talk with jokes and sarcasm, and even uses characters based on star signs. She knows the importance of taking on taboo topics, because there are so many people who won't otherwise find answers to their questions. "I don't actually struggle in my everyday life asking people if they've ever been anally fisted before," Boebi joked with me. "I'll take that burden."

And keeping her tone light and humorous is of the utmost importance to her. "When people are laughing, they're comfortable, and I want people to feel comfortable," Boebi said. "And I want people to know that I'm comfortable talking about sex, and they can be, too." It helps also, Boebi told me, that her audience is separated by a screen, and she's not "in a room with a 12-year-old talking about my labia."

Beyond instructional sex videos, Boebi also deals with other rarely discussed facets of sexuality and physicality. Boebi is polyamorous, and talks openly about it, confronting the stereotypes and the misinformation about the identity head-on. And, she was also recently diagnosed with Ehler's Danlos Syndrome after going years without a diagnosis, and she aims to start working more with disabled queer sex educators to make her work more inclusive of people with disabilities. Though she pointed out to me that her work was already encompassing of disabilities, she "hasn't been a part of the disability activist community for very long," and so she has a lot to learn.

And, though Boebi's happy that she has the platform she does, she wants a more inclusive array of sex educators to join the scene. "My voice is my voice, and it's unique to me, but I think there should be way more," she noted. "Especially people [with intersectional identities]. That would make me so happy if we could diversify sex educators."

And, though Boebi says there's no "ideal way" to educate people about sex, she's definitely on a better track than the public education system, and she makes clear that there's nothing shameful about sexuality—in fact, it's just a part of being human, and a really fun one, at that.

Screenshot via YouTube

The band shared details about their new St. Vincent-produced album that will drop "you into the world of catastrophe"

Sleater-Kinney just shared more information about their St. Vincent-produced album and dropped a new single.

Per Billboard, Sleater-Kinney revealed that their new album, which they've been teasing since early this year and will be their first since No Cities To Love from 2015, will be called The Center Won't Hold. It's due out on August 16 via Mom + Pop Records. "We're always mixing the personal and the political but on this record, despite obviously thinking so much about politics, we were really thinking about the person—ourselves or versions of ourselves or iterations of depression or loneliness—in the middle of the chaos," Carrie Brownstein said in a statement. Corin Tucker further noted that the new album will "[drop] you into the world of catastrophe that touches on the election."

Janet Weiss noted that the band will "explore a different sound palette" with this album, and pointed to St. Vincent as the reason behind it. She said that St. Vincent "has a lot of experience building her own music with keyboards and synthesizers so she could be our guide to help us make sense of this new landscape and still sound like us."

To satiate us until then, the band released a lyric video for new single, "The Future Is Here," which is very grungy. Bump it, below.

Sleater-Kinney - The Future Is Here (Official Lyric Video)


This is so satisfying!

Even Jon Snow knows just how unsatisfying the final season of Game of Thrones was, and he's ready to apologize. Well, a deepfake of him is at least. A heavily-edited version of Snow's speech from the fourth episode—just before the bodies of those lost in the Battle of Winterfell get burned—now features Snow apologizing for the conclusion of the show and lighting the script on fire.

"It's time for some apologies. I'm sorry we wasted your time," Snow begins. "And I know nothing made sense at the end. When the Starbucks cup is the smallest mistake, you know you fucked up! We take the blame. I'm sorry we wrote this in like six days or something," he adds, before signaling to his peers to light the script with torches and "just forget it forever." "Fuck Season 8," he says before the pages begin to crackle and burn.

If there were more lines left to alter, we would have loved to see Snow also tackle how messy Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister's story line ended up, as well as Bran's kingship, Cersei's boring demise, and the water bottle appearance.

Watch the entire deepfake and try to heal the wounds left by HBO below.


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Photo by Darren Craig

It premieres today, exclusively via NYLON

In LP's song "Shaken," the most recent single from her 2018 record Heart To Mouth, she tells the story of seeing her lover out with someone else—ouch. Today, exclusively on NYLON, she releases a cheeky animated music video that pokes fun at the song's heightened drama and perfectly demonstrates all the angst that comes with falling hard for someone.

"She looks at you like I used to/ And I'm just sitting in the corner sh-sh-shaken," LP sings, as the visual—with art by Maayan Priva—depicts the singer hanging out in a bar, watching the girl she likes meet up with another girl. Despite the situation's inherent drama, "Shaken" is less of a ballad and more of an upbeat bop. LP told us she loves the way "this little video captures some of the fun of the song, and its inherent comical anxiety." Sure, heartbreak isn't that funny, but our (sometimes) overly dramatic reaction to it kind of is.

"'Shaken' feels like a bit of a wild card on this record," LP says. "It's the closest I've come to writing a musical, which I hope to do one day." We heartily endorse this idea: Please, LP, give us the queer jukebox musical we crave.

Until that day comes, though, you can watch the music video for "Shaken," below.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This cameo has the Beyhive buzzing

I went to see Men In Black: International alone. Which would have been fine if it wasn't for the shock I received when I saw two specific characters on the screen. Unable to keep it to myself, I shared a curious look with the stranger next to me, who was obviously thinking the same thing as me. "Is that them...?" I whispered first. "I think… so," she replied. Then the two men in question started to dance, and we were both sure: "Yep, that's them."

It was Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins. Fans of Beyoncé will recognize the duo as the talented brothers who often accompany her on tour and in music videos. In Men In Black: International, the two of them play shapeshifting entities—they're more like energy forces than aliens—who pursue Tessa Thompson's and Chris Hemsworth's characters throughout the duration of the film. The twins' ability to manipulate their bodies in ways that are graceful and otherworldly really helps sell them as extraterrestrials and is fun to watch.

So if Thompson in a suit or Hemsworth shirtless weren't enough motivation, here's another reason to go see it. If you look close, you can see them in the trailer below.