Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir


Product Details

$27.00  $25.11
Pantheon Books
Publish Date
5.3 X 7.4 X 1.1 inches | 0.7 pounds

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About the Author

MARGO JEFFERSON lives in New York City.


"Thrillingly original...A fierce and fresh amalgamation of memoir and cultural criticism by one of the country's most compelling thinkers. This slim volume is saturated with brilliance."
--Library Journal [starred review]

"Margo Jefferson is one of our most nuanced thinkers on the intersections of race, class, and feminism. Her latest Constructing a Nervous System is especially alive, as if I'm listening to her think aloud. Her discursive writing is both spiky and supple; jagged and balletic; she retracts, circles around, before doubling down on pointed revelations that linger in my mind for days. It's a thrill to follow the brilliant scintillating thoughts of Margo Jefferson in Constructing a Nervous System.
--Cathy Park Hong, New York Times bestselling author of Minor Feelings

Jefferson is as precise and sensitive as ever, nonpareil in her scope and ability to synthesize the circus of traditions, arcs, and performances that make up a life, taking the role of stage trouper and spectator in turns...What an honor to settle in for the show alongside her.
--Vulture, Most Anticipated Books of 2022

"In this beautiful "assemblage of recombinant thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations and words," Margo Jefferson has created a startling and digressive form of auto-analysis. This serial meditation on the cultural icons key to her psychic and intellectual formation, from Ella Fitzgerald sweating inelegantly in public view to Willa Cather's queerness and worship of white skin, offers an intimate view of the aesthetic and political landscape of American culture and the secrets, longing, withholding and disavowal necessary to imagine oneself inside it and ward off its damage."
--Saidiya Hartman, author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Margo Jefferson is one of the great innovators in modern autobiographical narrative. Her voice is pure, her insights original. This is a moving portrait of the life of a brilliant African American woman's mind. She is so real, her sensibility so literary, her learning such a joy. The gifts of reading her are many.
--Darryl Pinckney, author of High Cotton and Busted in New York and Other Essays

"In a hot bebop of syntax and cultural retrieval, restrained by a cool syncopation of bemusement and contradiction - or is it grief? - Margo Jefferson accounts for a mind and soul bestowed by, among others, Topsy, Josephine Baker, Willa Cather, Bud Powell, James Baldwin, Kara Walker, even Bing Crosby. Constructing a Nervous System is raucous and new, a signal contribution, an immediate classic."
--Honor Moore, author of Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury

"This is one of the most imaginative--and therefore moving--memoirs I have ever read. An impressive sequel to Negroland!"
Vivian Gornick, essayist and critic

"Margo Jefferson's Constructing a Nervous System is as electric as its title suggests. It takes vital risks, tosses away rungs of the ladder as it climbs, and offers an indispensable, rollicking account of the enchantments, pleasures, costs, and complexities of "imagin[ing] and interpret[ing] what had not imagined you."
--Maggie Nelson, author of On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint

"Passion and erudition usually don't go together, but Margo Jefferson in her often painful mediations on being black and female consults a lifelong accumulation of thoughts about high and popular culture, about historic and contemporary literature, and entertainment and politics. She knows everything and has felt it all deeply. If you want to know who we are and where we've been, read Margo Jefferson."
--Edmund White, author of A Previous Life

"Jefferson glories in words...turning her keenly honed analysis on herself, her family, and her class, while relentlessly interrogating the broader underlying context of white racism...Like a skilled embroiderer, she blends the multicolored threads of Black cultural life with memories of her past in a memoir that is impressionistic rather than chronological."
--Booklist [starred review]

"Bold and roving...Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and memoirist Jefferson...creates a dance of memory and incisive cultural commentary that's deeply and refreshingly personal. This gorgeous memoir elevates the form to new heights."
--Publisher's Weekly [starred review]

"The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and memoirist returns with an inspired and unstinting examination of American class, culture, and personal memory. Jefferson's unique perspective and relentless honesty and self-examination ensure that there's something worthwhile on every page...A dynamic, unflinchingly candid examination of the impacts of race and class on culture and the author's own life."
--Kirkus Reviews [starred review]