“For many years, as the kind of journalism I was doing became more and more directly personal—I was trying to find my way to a language that I could put on the page myself. I was taught to keep memoir at a distance. That desire to suppress ourselves, or self-censor, spreads all over. It was diagnosis and some form of catharsis.”
-Margo Jefferson, episode 280 of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso
Today, we sit with author and cultural critic Margo Jefferson. We begin with her new book, Constructing a Nervous System (6:54), an early Ella Fitzgerald memory (11:20), and the said (and unsaid) racial pedagogy of her childhood (16:24), defined by Condoleezza Rice (19:54), Bing Crosby (24:18), and a formative interaction at a high school party (27:49).
On the back-half, we walk through Margo’s entry into criticism (34:27), her role in the emerging feminist movement (36:46), and what real allyship looks like in the continued fight for reproductive rights (40:12). To close, Margo discusses her approach in the classroom at Columbia (41:52), finding ‘temperamental kinship’ in Nina Simone (48:59), Oscar Wilde on the role of the critic (53:15), and how, at 74, she continues to “go on” (1:04:50).
- Order your copy of Constructing a Nervous System.
- Learn more about Margo’s previous books, including Negroland, here.
- Read her archive of pieces in The New York Times.
- To support the fight for reproductive rights, donate to local abortion funds by state, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, Indigenous Women Rising, and independent clinics nationwide.
- For more conversations, hear our talks with Gloria Steinem, Claudia Rankine, Dr. Cornel West, Jhumpa Lahiri, George Saunders, and Ocean Vuong.
- Order your Talk Easy mug in cream and navy or our vinyl record with Fran Lebowitz.
Illustrations by: Krishna Shenoi.