If you recognize the name Morgan Harper Nichols, it’s likely because you’ve stumbled across a piece of her striking art on Instagram. The mixed-media artist, 31, began her career as a college admissions counselor before pursuing music. During her downtime between gigs, she began experimenting with art apps on her iPad. Her song lyrics became poetry and from there, an online community was born. Now, she has 1.7 million followers on Instagram and is a best-selling author (her most recent collection of poetry and essays, How Far You Have Come, came out on April 27).
To mark the release, Morgan spoke to Cosmopolitan about cultivating deep relationships with her online community after a lifetime of feeling unable to communicate with others.
After I started sharing my own poetry and art on Instagram in 2017, people would share their stories with me. I guess because of the nature of what I was writing about—connection fueled by empathy and curiosity. It was always in those moments that I would connect with what people were saying. I love to hear people’s stories, but I’ve always struggled to communicate in face-to-face scenarios. Being able to exchange letters—or engage on social media—lets me meet so many new people and hear stories in a way I hadn’t before.
When I was a kid, I was physically bullied, but I didn’t know how to talk about it. I literally had a kid kick me in the face intentionally and I didn’t tell my parents. It took until I was 25 to tell them.
Now I know that some of these major communication challenges were due to autism. I was diagnosed in February 2021 because I ended up watching TikTok videos about women with autism who were diagnosed as adults. I saw them and was like, Okay, they’re describing my whole life. That gave me the courage to seek help.
I started writing my third book How Far You Have Come at the beginning of the pandemic and I began by thinking about all of the stories that people have shared with me over the years. I wanted to create something that honored how far we’ve all come, like the title suggests. The book is about a road trip I took with my family in the summer of 1996 when I was 6. We stopped in Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon. Watching the sunset was the first time I felt I could connect without having to read, write, or speak a single word. I realized art could be my language. Being able to find art and beauty in nature gave me so much solace, even at a young age.
I’m sure you are incredibly overwhelmed by how much is coming at you via your feed or your inbox. That makes me want to put things out into the world that can be invitations to life beyond that. Sometimes, I design pieces and make things that I hope would help someone say, Okay, I saw that and now I want to log off and go do something else. I want to go doodle now. I want to go draw a picture. I want to go outside and take a picture of the sky.
I’ve been told my work is too repetitive and honestly, that’s the point. That’s literally the whole point. I need to be reminded to breathe every single day. That’s why I say it over and over. I’m grateful for whoever connects with that. And there are people who do. There are so many different ways people have suffered over the past year, the ways that we supported one another, and encouraged one another, and showed up for one another. I just…it’s infinite. It’s made me see my fellow humans in a different way.
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