A Memoir

Margo Jefferson

Published: 2 June 2016
Trade Paperback, Demy PB
135x216mm, 256 pages
ISBN: 9781783783021

Other Editions


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Published: 29 December 2016
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 256 pages
ISBN: 9781783783397

Ebook Available


The daughter of a successful paediatrician and a fashionable socialite, Margo Jefferson spent her childhood among Chicago's black elite. She calls this society 'Negroland': 'a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty'. With privilege came expectation. Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments - the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of post-racial America - Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions.

About the author

Image of Margo Jefferson

The winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, MARGO JEFFERSON was for years a theater and book critic for Newsweek and The New York Times. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, Vogue, New York magazine, and The New Republic. She is the author of On Michael Jackson and is a professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts. More about the author


‘[A] meditation on race, sex, class and American culture, told through the prism of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's memoir of her rarefied upbringing and education as the daughter of a successful paediatrician’



Negroland is a subtle and subversive remembering of elite black life before the age of Civil Rights, a magnificent use of the memoir form, a reminder of insecurities and comfort, where KKK stood both for Ku Klux Klan and three kinds of Kongolene hair-straightening products’ Peter Stothard, author of

Negroland is a sharp-eyed cultural commentary on an era of America that has often been too simply told.’ Aminatta Forna

Negroland is a superb book. Non-fiction books that meld genres seem to be having a bit of a moment but what this one does differently is consider the intersections of race, class and gender in a way I haven't seen before. It's a fascinating read and an insight into an underexplored area of society. Highly recommended.’ Naomi Frisby for blog

Negroland is the record of a powerful mind grappling with all the trouble of being awake. Jefferson's sensibility is both blunt and fine-honed, austere and companionable. A dazzling bookEula Biss, author

A masterpiece ... Jefferson has lived and worked like the great reporter she is, traversing a little-known or -understood landscape peopled by blacks and whites, dreamers and naysayers, the privileged and the strivers who make up the mosaic known as America’ Hilton Als

Powerful and complicated... There's sinew and grace in the way she plays with memory, dodging here and burning there, like a photographer in a darkroom... Ms. Jefferson will not be denied... With luck, there will be a sequel to this book’ Dwight Garner

Powerful... Margo Jefferson identifies and deftly explores the tensions that come with being party of America's black elite’ Roxane Gay

The masterful Negroland - endlessly impressive and important - is a book of then versus now. Slavery, the Civil War, Civil Rights, the Black Power movement: Jefferson elegantly traverses a rich, often troubling, but surprising historical landscape [...] There's no navel-gazing here. The personal is no longer indistinguishable from the political, but Jefferson achieves that volatile alchemy that's integral to all the finest of memoirs: the transformation of an individual story into something that resonates outside the confines of subjective experience.’ Lucy Scholes

Treads briskly and fearlessly across the treacherous terrain of race, class, gender and entitlement ... [Jefferson] is a poetic and bracing memoirist... Lean, specific and personal... enlighteningRobin Givhan

‘A marvellous, complex, stimulating and thought-provoking personal history’ Geoff Dyer

‘A candid memoir about 'race' in America that zooms into sharp focus right now and makes you question everything, even the too easy term 'race in America'. The book rings and chimes and finds strength in contradiction’ Jackie Kay

‘A candid memoir about "race" in America that zooms into sharp focus right now and makes you question everything, even the too easy term "race in America". The book rings and chimes and finds strength in contradiction’ Jackie Kay, Best Books of 2016

‘A cunningly unexpected addition to the many recent books about race relation... [Jefferson] knows who she is, now, not who someone else wants her to be’ Eleanor Franzén for blog

‘A fascinating account of the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic's upbringing among Chicago's black elite community. It's an intriguing look at the way race and class interplay in the United States... It's sharp, thoughtful stuff, unafraid and honest, making Negroland an important as well as engrossing read.’ Doug Johnstone

‘A personal memoir with profound political resonance, Negroland is an illuminating exploration of the racial politics of culture and class.’ Houman Barekat

‘A rare insight into upper-class black society in the US... Jefferson's eye for details yields some devastatingly honest and painful insights [and she takes delight] in the subtleties of language, in the choice of the mot juste... Jefferson is striking a path into dangerous, unfamiliar territory’ Clive Davis

‘An exploration of a mesh of complex cultural identities, a tangle of class, race, gender and appearance... Nuanced emotion and unforgiving observation, combined with stylistic risk-taking, might not guarantee comfortable reading, but they make Negroland utterly compelling. Jefferson's is a reluctant memoir, but had she not written in, we would have been deprived of a remarkable achievement.’ Margaret Busby

‘Captivating... Much of Negroland has the experimental and experiential quality of jazz... Charm is this book's watchword’ Colin Grant

‘Fascinating... this is a rare insight, told with boldness, into a time where race, class and gender were being questioned by the civil rights movement and the rise of feminism. Jefferson doesn't shy away from retelling difficult encounters and experiences, including her own personal battle with depression. It's a thought-provoking read that offers a new angle on such a revolutionary period of modern history’ Ruchira Sharma

‘Full of zingy sentences... Jefferson is as charming as she is enlightening; most readers of this fine book will hope for future volumes of recollection’ Sukhdev Sandhu

‘In Negroland, writes Margo Jefferson, "we thought of ourselves as the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians." This penetrating memoir... is at its heart an unpacking of that sentence and its implications... This book encapsulates the tension between wanting and fearing to be seen’

‘In this compelling, moving and clear-eyed memoir, Jefferson draws on her own experiences and those of previous generations of privileged black Americans to explore complex issues of identity and privilege with insight, compassion and wry wit.’ Anna Carey

‘Innovative, unsettling and powerful... Margo Jefferson brilliantly enlivens the memoir form, disrupting its comforting beat in order to be heard’ Rona Cran

‘It would be too easy to call Negroland a ground breaking work and yet this is exactly what it is. In her descriptions of a life lived on the nexus of race and class Margo Jefferson tells a tale of how people create, defy and survive systems of exclusion and inclusion, of the human toll that must be exacted. Negroland is a work singular in word, form and theme. Compelling and essential readingAminatta Forna, author

‘It's interesting and sympathetic how Jefferson acknowledges throughout her memoir the complexity of identity. it's also touching how unwilling she is to give in to self pity and maintain a tough critical distance from the deep emotional hurt she experienced while still making the reader achingly aware of the power of her feelings... Jefferson means to provoke thought and discussion about the subject - something which is ongoing and necessary. It's tremendous strength of this book that it doesn't lapse into didacticism, but instead prompted me to feel more awareness of how people might or might not change their behaviour based on racial differences. It made me think about how marginalized groups in our society don't exist on one level but inhabit different spheres of repression and discrimination... This is a powerful and thought-provoking memoir.’ Eric Anderson for blog

‘Jefferson combines her own memories with elements of the broader academic history of black communities in America, slavery and societal structures... It is an important and deeply interesting text on a little known slice of history.’ Sacha Waldron

‘Jefferson is a national treasure and her memoir should be required readingNicole Jones

‘Jefferson writes with piercing clarity of a childhood which was full of love and opportunity at home, but also saturated by contradictions, confusions and a racism which corrodes, like rust, to the heart's core.’ Helen Dunmore, summer books round-up

‘Jefferson's memoir pushes against the boundaries of its own genre... Her candor, and the courage and rigor of her critic's mind, recall a number of America's greatest thinkers on race... what we gain from [Negroland] is revelatoryTracy K. Smith

‘Margo Jefferson sees everything and expresses it with surgical clarity. She is the Toqueville of race in America. This is a great book, destined to be read for a centuryEdmund White

‘Poignant... In Negroland, Jefferson is simultaneously looking in and looking out at her blackness, elusive in her terse, evocative reconnaissance, leaving us yearning to know more’ Rebecca Carroll

‘The honesty of Negroland is matched only by its historical depth and intellectual integrity’ Michael La Pointe, Best Books of 2016

‘The honesty of Negroland is matched only by its historical depth and intellectual integrity’ Michael La Pointe

‘This penetrating memoir shows how those who were spared the brutality of southern segregation nevertheless has to learn to navigate a much subtler set of tacit rules and assumptions’ Best Books of 2016

‘Unable to disentangle the political from the personal, Jefferson has combined social history with autobiography in this remarkable book. She opens a window on a section of American society that's little-known on this side of the Atlantic... A New York Times and Newsweek critic of many years' standing, she's written an examination of her life and times that's revelatory and keenly self-aware.’ Alastair Mabbott

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