Margo Jefferson (U.S.)Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 8 p.m.
Join us for a reading with a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson. Her reading will be followed by a discussion facilitated by local writer/editor Erv Dyer.
Margo Jefferson is the author of Negroland, which won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, The International Bridge Prize and The Heartland Prize. Her previous book was On Michael Jackson. She has been a staff writer for The New York Times and Newsweek, and has published in New York Magazine, The Nation, The Washington Post The Believer, Guernica, Bookforum, O, the Oprah Magazine, Vogue and Grand Street. Her essays have been anthologized in: The Best American Essays, 2015; The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death; What My Mother Gave Me; The Best African-American Essays, 2014; The Mrs. Dalloway Reader; Black Cool; and The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. She also wrote and performed a theater piece, Sixty Minutes in Negroland, at The Cherry Lane Theater and The Culture Project. She teaches in the School of the Arts Writing Program at Columbia University.
An excerpt from Negroland:
I’m a chronicler of Negroland, a participant-observer, an elegist, dissenter and admirer; sometime expatriate, ongoing interlocutor.
I call it Negroland because I still find “Negro” a word of wonders, glorious and terrible. A word for runaway slave posters and civil rights proclamations; for social constructs and street corner flaunts. A tonal-language word whose meaning shifts as setting and context shift, as history twists, lurches, advances, and stagnates. As capital letters appear to enhance its dignity; as other nomenclatures arise to challenge its primacy.
I call it Negroland because “Negro” dominated our history for so long; because I lived with its meanings and intimations for so long; because they were essential to my first discoveries of what race meant, or, as we now say, how race was constructed.
For nearly two hundred years we in Negroland have called ourselves all manner of things. Like
the colored aristocracy
the colored elite
the colored 400
the blue vein society
the big families, the old families, the old settlers, the pioneers
Negro society, black society
the Negro, the black, the African-American upper class or elite.
I was born in 1947, and my generation, like its predecessors, was taught that since our achievements received little notice or credit from white America, we were not to discuss our faults, lapses, or uncertainties in public. (Even now I shy away from the word “failings.”) Even the least of them would be turned against the race. Most white people made no room for the doctrine of “human, all too human”: our imperfections were sub- or provisionally human.
For my generation the motto was still: Achievement. Invulnerability. Comportment.
Part of me dreads revealing anything in these pages except our drive to excellence. But I dread the constricted expression that comes from that. And we’re prone to being touchy. Self-righteously smug and snobbish. So let me begin in a quiet, clinical way.
I was born into the Chicago branch of Negroland. My father was a doctor, a pediatrician, and for some years head of pediatrics at Provident, the nation’s oldest black hospital. My mother was a social worker who left her job when she married, and throughout my childhood she was a full-time wife, mother, and socialite. But where did they come from to get there? And which clubs and organizations did they join to seal their membership in this world?