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Margo Jefferson

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Margo Jefferson
Jefferson at the 2015 Texas Book Festival
Jefferson at the 2015 Texas Book Festival
BornMargo Lillian Jefferson
(1947-10-17) October 17, 1947 (age 76)
  • Writer
  • critic
  • journalist
  • professor
EducationBrandeis University (BA)
Columbia University (MS)
  • Memoir
  • journalism
  • criticism
Notable worksNegroland: A Memoir (2015)
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Criticism; National Book Critics Circle Award; Windham-Campbell Literature Prize; Rathbones Folio Prize

Margo Lillian Jefferson (born October 17, 1947)[1] is an American writer and academic.


Jefferson received her B.A. from Brandeis University, where she graduated cum laude, and her M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She became an associate editor at Newsweek in 1973 and stayed at the magazine until 1978. She then served as an assistant professor at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at New York University from 1979 to 1983 and from 1989 to 1991. Since then she has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, where she is now professor of professional practice in writing. Jefferson also taught at The New School's Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts.[2]

She joined The New York Times in 1993, initially as a book reviewer,[3] then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1995.[4][5] She also served as the newspaper's theater critic in 2004.[6] In addition to the Times, she has written for Vogue, New York Magazine, The Nation, and Guernica.

Jefferson has a longstanding interest in jazz, and appeared in Ken Burns's 2001 documentary series about the history of the music.[7][8]


Jefferson's 2006 book, On Michael Jackson,[9] was described by Publishers Weekly as a "slim, smart volume of cultural analysis."[10] According to Lucy Scholes in The Independent: "The excellent On Michael Jackson is not a straightforward biography, nor is it an attempt to claim either his innocence or his guilt when it comes to the child abuse scandals that, although he was acquitted, haunt his afterlife. A 'deciphering' is probably the most accurate description of the book, the shrewd playfulness of Jefferson's prose the perfect vehicle for analysis that's as smart as it is readable."[11]

Jefferson's autobiographical book, Negroland: A Memoir, was published to acclaim in 2015. It was described by Dwight Garner in The New York Times as a "powerful and complicated memoir",[12] and by Margaret Busby in The Sunday Times as "utterly compelling",[13] while Anita Sethi wrote in The Observer: "Jefferson fascinatingly explores how her personal experience intersected with politics, from the civil rights movement to feminism, as well as history before her birth."[14] Tracy K. Smith wrote in The New York Times: "The visible narrative apparatus of 'Negroland' highlights its author's extreme vulnerability in the face of her material. It also makes apparent the all-too-often invisible fallout of our nation's ongoing obsession with race and class: Namely, that living a life as an exemplar of black excellence — and living with the survivor's guilt that often accompanies such excellence — can have a psychic effect nearly as deadening and dehumanizing as that of racial injustice itself."[15] In 2016 Negroland was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction[16][17] and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the Autobiography category.

Jefferson is a contributor to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.[18]

In 2022, Jefferson was the recipient of a Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in the category of non-fiction.[19] Her book Constructing a Nervous System was a finalist for ALA 2023 Carnegie Medal[20] and the 2023 National Book Critics Circle award in criticism.[21] The book won both the overall and non-fiction categories of the Rathbones Folio Prize.[22]


Year Title Award Category Result Ref
1995 Pulitzer Prize Criticism Won [4]
2016 Negroland Baillie Gifford Prize Shortlisted [23]
2016 National Book Critics Circle Award Memoir Won [24]
2022 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize Non-fiction Won [25]
2023 Constructing a Nervous System Rathbones Folio Prize Won [22]



  • On Michael Jackson. New York: Pantheon. 2006. ISBN 978-0-375-42326-0.
  • Negroland: A Memoir. New York: Pantheon. 2015. ISBN 978-0307378453.[26]
  • Constructing a Nervous System. New York: Pantheon. 2022. ISBN 978-1524748173.

Selected essays and reporting[edit]

  • "Ripping Off Black Music", Harper's Magazine, January 1973.
  • "Seducified by a Minstrel Show", The New York Times, May 22, 1994.[27]
  • "On Writers and Writing; Authentic American", The New York Times, February 18, 2001.[28]
  • "On the Home Front, the Personal Becomes Theatrical (and Political, Too)", The New York Times, December 11, 2004.[29]
  • "Some permutations of we : criticism that comes close to home". The Believer. 11 (3): 22–24. March–April 2013.
  • "How Michelle Obama expanded the definition of a first lady", The Guardian, January 6, 2017.[30]
  • "No Cinderella: Margo Jefferson on the real Meghan Markle", The Guardian, May 5, 2018.[31]
  • "Was I in denial? Margo Jefferson on Michael Jackson's legacy", The Guardian, June 7, 2019.[32]


  1. ^ "Margo Jefferson's Biography". The History Makers. January 20, 2017. Retrieved May 5, 2021.
  2. ^ New School for Social Research Archived September 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Michael Jackson: An American Work in Progress, Presented by Margo Jefferson.OSU. Archived May 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b "Margo Jefferson of The New York Times", The 1995 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Criticism, The Pulitzer Prizes.
  5. ^ The New York Times bio.
  6. ^ Andrew Gans, Andrew (August 24, 2004). "Variety's Isherwood Named New New York Times Critic" Archived October 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Playbill.
  7. ^ "Ken Burns's Jazz", Jazz Center.
  8. ^ Ken Monaco, PBS
  9. ^ Silman, Anna (March 7, 2019). "She Wrote the Book on Michael Jackson. Now She Wishes It Said More". The Cut. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  10. ^ "On Michael Jackson". Publishers Weekly. November 28, 2005.
  11. ^ Lucy Scholes (May 10, 2018), "On Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson, review: As smart as it is readable", The Independent.
  12. ^ Dwight Garner (September 10, 2015), "Review: 'Negroland,' by Margo Jefferson, on Growing Up Black and Privileged", The New York Times.
  13. ^ Margaret Busby (June 19, 2016), "Books: Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson", The Sunday Times.
  14. ^ Anita Sethi (January 22, 2017), "Negroland by Margo Jefferson review – a brilliant memoir about race in America", The Observer.
  15. ^ "Margo Jefferson's 'Negroland: A Memoir'". The New York Times. September 20, 2015.
  16. ^ "Baillie Gifford Non-Fiction Prize nominees announced". BBC News. October 17, 2016.
  17. ^ Maev Kennedy (October 17, 2016). "First-hand reporting dominates Baillie Gifford shortlist". The Guardian.
  18. ^ Margaret Busby (March 9, 2019), "From Ayòbámi Adébáyò to Zadie Smith: meet the New Daughters of Africa", The Guardian.
  19. ^ Brown, Lauren (March 29, 2022). "Jefferson, Dangarembga and Pinnock among winners of Windham-Campbell Prizes". The Bookseller. Retrieved March 30, 2022.
  20. ^ Andrew Albanese (January 30, 2023). "Julie Otsuka, Ed Yong Win ALA's 2023 Carnegie Medals". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved February 3, 2023.
  21. ^ Varno, David (February 1, 2023). "NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE ANNOUNCES FINALISTS FOR PUBLISHING YEAR 2022". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved February 3, 2023.
  22. ^ a b "De Kretser wins 2023 Folio Prize". Books+Publishing. March 28, 2023. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  23. ^ "Shortlist announced for The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2016". The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. October 2016.
  24. ^ Alexandra Alter (March 17, 2016). "'The Sellout' Wins National Book Critics Circle's Fiction Award". The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
  25. ^ "Margo Jefferson". Windham-Campbell Prizes. Retrieved March 30, 2022.
  26. ^ Tracy K. Smith, "Margo Jefferson's 'Negroland: A Memoir'" (review), The New York Times, September 15, 2015.
  27. ^ Margo Jefferson (May 22, 1994), "TELEVISION VIEW; Seducified by a Minstrel Show", The New York Times.
  28. ^ Margo Jefferson (February 18, 2001), "On Writers and Writing; Authentic American", The New York Times.
  29. ^ Margo Jefferson (December 11, 2004), "On the Home Front, the Personal Becomes Theatrical (and Political, Too)", The New York Times.
  30. ^ Margo Jefferson (January 6, 2017), "How Michelle Obama expanded the definition of a first lady", The Guardian.
  31. ^ Margo Jefferson (May 5, 2018), "No Cinderella: Margo Jefferson on the real Meghan Markle", The Guardian.
  32. ^ Margo Jefferson (June 7, 2019), "Was I in denial? Margo Jefferson on Michael Jackson's legacy", The Guardian.

External links[edit]

External audio
audio icon Margo Jefferson, The Poet and the Poem 2017–18 Series