Spotlight: Morgan Harper Nichols

Leah LeMoineMay 5, 2021
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Photography by Diana Elizabeth Steffen
Photography by Diana Elizabeth Steffen

Self-Help Poet 

Before she became an Instagram darling with 1.7 million followers, Morgan Harper Nichols was a floundering musician. “I was in my mid-20s and struggling with feeling like my music career didn’t go where I wanted it to go,” she says. “I ended up writing a poem about all of those frustrations, and that poem ended up going viral on Pinterest. And that’s what led to this whole season of where I am today.” In this season, the 31-year-old is creating digital art accompanied by her beautifully raw poetry, hosting a podcast, running an online boutique and writing books, including How Far You Have Come, which came out on April 27. Last summer, she moved from California to Gilbert with her husband and young son. “I’d been to Arizona many times… [but] I forgot just how glorious sunrises and sunsets are all the time,” she says. “Which is how I find my color palette a lot of times, so it’s been great.”

How has living here influenced your art?

When I was a little girl, we came to the Grand Canyon. That trip had such a profound impact on me in terms of just seeing the rock faces and the colors… I feel very childlike even today when I’m outside taking pictures of the sunset and the sunrise and the flowers and the mountains. I just love being a part of it and taking those photos for myself. I take it into my studio, and I use a lot of the same colors and styles in my work.

Your work feels like poetry meets therapy – messages that encourage growth.

I consider it to be a form of therapy to just sit there on my iPad and doodle and play with brushes. So, it starts with that – me needing a place where I can kind of go and just be in the present moment, and be a kid again, and just forget about everything else for a minute and just breathe. So, I love that other people feel that way when they see the art.

How has your message of self-compassion resonated during the pandemic?

One of my most popular pieces from the past year wasn’t a fancy graphic or anything. I wrote, “It’s OK if productivity looks different in this season.” … It’s so easy for us to forget [to contextualize our efforts]. I have received messages from people who are also wondering if they’re doing enough, or wondering if they’re where they need to be.

You were recently diagnosed with autism after years of misdiagnoses.

It took a few years and, honestly, being in the pandemic. I was home a lot, and I ended up on TikTok. I saw videos of some women talking about being diagnosed, and I felt like they were describing my whole life. It made such a difference in my life, being able to have an explanation for the things that I struggle with… The first thing that my specialist said to me after giving me kind of the whole rundown of the diagnosis was, “And it’s not your fault.” That was a life-defining moment. It’s just really good to have support, and I want that for everyone.

Now you’re promoting your new book, which is structured a bit like a road trip.

There’s a whole section that is inspired by Arizona. The book walks through eight states. It starts where I grew up in Georgia, and I go all the way to California. I stop in each state and I tell a story, and there’s poetry and art. It’s actually one of my favorite chapters.

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