Constructing a Nervous System

Margo Jefferson


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Granta Books
6 April 2023
ISBN: 9781783785568
208 pages

From the publisher

Winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize Book of the Year
Shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize 2022

In this intimate and innovative memoir, Pulitzer prize-winning author Margo Jefferson gives us her own personal and intellectual formation.

As she comes of age in an America whose freedoms are distorted by race and gender, she finds herself in a cast of others – jazz luminaries, writers, artists, athletes, and stars. Bing Crosby and Ike Turner are among the author’s alter egos. The sounds of a jazz LP emerge as the intimate and instructive sounds of a parent’s voice. W. E. B. Du Bois and George Eliot meet illicitly. The muscles and movements of a ballerina are spliced with those of an Olympic runner, becoming a template for what a black female body can be.

From Josephine Baker’s radiant transformations, to Willa Cather’s aesthetics of whiteness, Jefferson shows us how we can find space in cultures that will not make room for us, and how, even in times of stricture, we might learn to construct ourselves.