Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson’s incisive commentary on American life opens up counterintuitive dimensions, and invites us to rethink our assumptions, unknotting complex ethical subjects.

Born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois, Margo Jefferson is a book and theater critic, a former staff writer for the New York Times and Newsweek, and the author of several books of nonfiction. In both her short criticism and her longer works, Jefferson displays a storyteller’s grace: the power to transform any subject—no matter how difficult or diffuse—into a cohesive, compelling narrative. Her first book, On Michael Jackson (2006), offers a masterful analysis of how Jackson’s life and career disrupted conventional understandings of gender, race, and mental illness. Jefferson’s debut memoir, Negroland (2015), takes up similar questions in the context of her own experiences as a member of Chicago’s postwar Black elite. For Jefferson “Negroland” is a realm both physical—a world of medical school classrooms, social clubs, and theaters—and psychological, a state organized by strict rules about appearance and decorum. Through a delicate combination of anecdote and argument, Jefferson shows us that the citizens of “Negroland” know that what they have can be revoked at any time, for almost any reason: Black privilege, unlike white privilege, “can be denied, withheld, offered grudgingly and withdrawn.” The recipient of a National Book Critics Circle Award (2016), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2008), and a Pulitzer Prize (1995), among many other honors, Jefferson is a Professor of Professional Practice in Writing at Columbia University. Her second memoir, Constructing a Nervous System, was published by Pantheon in April 2022.

Thrilled, in this case, is an understatement! I couldn't be happier. Blissful is the word. MARGO JEFFERSON