'Constructing a Nervous System' by Professor Margo Jefferson '71 Out Next Month

Rebecca Pinwei Tseng
March 30, 2022

Penguin Random House recently published the memoir Constructing a Nervous System by Professor and School of Journalism alumna Margo Jefferson '71. The book is now available for pre-order.

In a brilliant follow-up to Jefferson's first memoir NegrolandConstructing a Nervous System brings together arts writing (poem, song, performance) with life writing (history, psychology) in a persistent search for the self. The figures of Jefferson's parents, her maternal grandmother, artists, writers, athletes, and stars come together to thrill and trouble her. In Jefferson's novel, the sounds of a spinning disc playing 1950s jazz are as intimate and instructive as a parent's voice, Bing Crosby and Ike Turner become alter egos, and the movements of a ballerina and Olympic runner are a template for what a female body could be.

Library Journal called the memoir "Thrillingly original…A fierce and fresh amalgamation of memoir and cultural criticism by one of the country’s most compelling thinkers."

Author Cathy Park Hong stated, “Margo Jefferson is one of our most nuanced thinkers on the intersections of race, class, and feminism. 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."

Book cover for 'Constructing a Nervous System'

Jefferson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic. She has been a staff writer for The New York Times and Newsweek; her reviews and essays have appeared in New York MagazineGrand StreetVogueHarper’s, and many other publications. Her book, On Michael Jackson, was published in 2005. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rockefeller Foundation / Theater Communications Group grant. She has also written and performed two theater pieces at The Cherry Lane Theatre and The Culture Project. Margo's 2015 memoir Negroland received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, The Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, The Bridge Prize for Nonfiction, and was short-listed for The Baillie Gifford Prize. The New York Times also listed it as one of the 50 best memoirs of the last 50 years.