Margo Jefferson: Race, Class and Feminism in America

Critic and memoirist Margo Jefferson on what it means to belong

Programme editor
in collaboration with

This programme will take place on October 4th. You can find more info & tickets here.

Since the 1970s, Margo Jefferson has commented on and interpreted contemporary American life. She has done so as a journalist, as a critic, as a privileged Black female writer. Now in her seventies, she uses her own past to understand the society that has shaped her. How do you make sense of what society believes you to be? And how do you make sense of what you yourself believe to be?

Rather than writing a straight forward memoir, Jefferson uses her newest book, Constructing a Nervous System to bring alive a cast of characters. These alter egos enable to her to get to the heart of the American experience. Some of these voices are famous—like Ike Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jay-Z. Others have been denied their place in our collective memory, like the Tennessee Tigerbelles, the all-female athletics team who won 23 medals in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

We know that race is a construction. We also know that race is a construction site we’re not going to be leaving anytime soon. What are we to do with our multiple selves, conjoined here, cross wired there?

Margo Jefferson

Tonight, Margo Jefferson will talk about perspective and identity, about positioning your own story and enabling others to tell theirs. Joining the conversation is Dutch essayist Stephan Sanders, with whom she will discuss how identity shapes your experience and how experience shapes your identity.

Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson is a critic-at-large with the New York Times. In 1995, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for her books and cultural essays. She is most famous for her collection of essays On Michael Jackson, and her previous memoir: Negroland, in which she chronicles her childhood in the Black upper-class of Chicago. Her latest book has been translated into Dutch as Het bouwen van een zenuwstelsel and is out now.


Margo Jefferson
Margo JeffersonWriter and academic
Stephan Sanders
Stephan SandersColumnist, presenter, essayist and author
John Adams Institute De Balie
Image: John Adams Institute