Portland-based writer Katherine D. Morgan contributed to BLEEP for years, talking to people about their outfits as expressions of themselves. Since then, her essays about her life and how she sees the world have been published in various publications and she’s even opened for writer David Sedaris. She’s a true rising talent and BLEEP was lucky to be a small part of her story. I caught up with her to talk about her process as a writer, what’s gets her going, and the importance of Frasier.
Let’s start at the beginning. When you were little, what did you think you wanted to be when you were older?
That’s an easy question. Ever since I was 8 years old, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I read the first Harry Potter book and I was super shocked. I never thought a world could be like that and I remember I was so involved with it. It was a turning point for me and I looked at my mother and told her I wanted to be a writer. So she sat me down at the dining room table and I wrote my first story. Since then, it was all I ever wanted to do.
I love that. I had no clue at that age. So you’ve always wanted to be a writer but when did you realize you were writing with intention?
I was in the seventh grade and my teacher asked us to write about a character in mythology. It was a simple assignment and everyone else wrote a page or so. I wrote 11 pages. I made sure to write in my nicest cursive and my character rode a dragon and had a deep backstory. My teacher gave me an A+. My classmates expected that sort of thing from me by that point because I’d been saying I was going to be a writer but that was the first time I remember them wanting to read something I’d written.
Talk to me about your writing process. Do you have a specific time that you write?
I have no discipline. None. I only have one thing I must do: I only write in composition notebooks. People try to give me notebooks as gifts but I only want to write in black composition notebooks. I also only write when I want to write. I don’t try to force it. Some people can start writing form the middle or the end of a story but I have to start at the beginning. The first sentence is important to me. It needs to be perfect. If it’s not absolutely perfect, I can’t move on.
That brings me to your editing process. How do you approach the shaping process of your work?
I try really hard to edit but I’m not the best at grammar typically. I write the piece and then I’ll wait a couple days and read through it again to see what I need to fix. Then, I send it to my best friend to read through and edit. She knows my writing style and what I’m trying to say so I find she’s my best critic. She knows when I’m not writing in my voice and is able to bring me back to what I should be doing.
I have to know how the opportunity came about to open for David Sedaris.
I work at Powell’s Books in Portland, the largest independent bookstore in the world. David Sedaris was doing an event at a store and there were hundreds of people there. The line for his book signing was really long but when I got up to him, he asked me about my tattoos. I have two tattoos on my forearms that signify writing and I told him I was a writer. He asked me what I wrote and I told him mostly nonfiction personal essays. We talked for a moment and he said he was coming back in November. He gave me his email and told me to email him so I could do five minutes of reading on stage before his event. He’d never read any of my work and we’d never met before that. And that’s how it happened.
The reading was in front of 3,000 people and I read an essay about a white guy I’d been dating who’d asked me why he couldn’t say the N-word. When that essay got published, I emailed David again. Now I’m opening for him again this November.
Okay that’s fascinating. Most writers never see the people who read their work. What was it like to be sharing the same space with the people who were experiencing your work?
It was interesting. At first it was nerve-wracking with the big crowd and all the lights, but with me, as soon as I can get people to laugh, I settle in and feel good about it. I said the title which, at that point was, “What to Tell Your White Boyfriend When he Asks Why He Can’t Say N****” [When published by The Rumpus, it was titled, “I Thought You Were Different”] and the whole audience laughed. When I was reading it, people laughed at parts I didn’t think were funny but they did. It was really comforting and nice to know I could do this. We as writers want to put our pieces out and have people love them, but that experience gave me more confidence. I started writing more works, I’ve been published four times since then, and it’s been nice to put out more work.
Speaking of that work, what excites you to write about today?
I typically write about race, body image and mental health. A lot of my friends are white cisgender people but a lot of the time, they don’t actually get what it’s like being a black person in America today. I put out an essay about body image and how online dating would be easier if I was white. I had a lot of friends who never considered the issues I brought up. The thing that gets me the most excited is presenting a new train of thought that hasn’t been considered yet. [Morgan’s essay “Fat Black Woman With No Ass But Breasts That Make Up for It” can be read here.]
What do you do when you need to be creatively recharged?
My number one self-care is always watching Frasier. It’s a show where I don’t have to focus on my problems and I can just focus on whatever Frasier is doing wrong. It’s comforting in a way. I indulge in food and having my nails done is a priority too. Those things just make me feel good. And then reading of course. Right now I’m reading the book about Mr. Rogers, “The Good Neighbor.” It’s so warm. Mr. Rogers was one of those characters who was really nice on TV and to read about how kind he actually was is even nicer.
Looking at your life today, are you happy?
There’s an episode of Frasier he spends the whole time asking that. I’m on the way getting there. I’m content. My mental health has always been a raggedy shit show and one day, I became just so tired of being unhappy. I thrive on hanging out with people so I did that more. I love reading and writing so I did that more. I was coming out of a depressive episode so those things helped. Right now, I’m getting there. When I moved to Portland, it was hard. It’s hard to move someplace when you don’t know anyone there but I’ve been meeting amazing people. I’ve found a really good home of people.
My last question is simply, why do you create?
I think I create for two reasons. One because I feel like I have to. I’m not good at math or science. I think it was the outlet I needed at the time too. As a kid, I was really lonely and insecure and not having a good time. I needed that space to find myself. Another reason is so kids and adults can have those moments of realizing who they are. I want to be there for those moments. Growing up is hard but there are moments in books where I feel like This is what I needed to read at this moment! I hope that someday, I will be able to be that author for someone else.