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Margo Jefferson interview

Margo Jefferson interview

The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction longlist

Margo Jefferson tells us she’s in a state of slightly stunned exhilaration after Negroland: A Memoir was longlisted and delves into a letter her mother wrote which is included in the book. 

This is part of our series of longlisted author interviews.    

What does it feel like to be longlisted?   

It’s put me in a state of slightly stunned exhilaration.

How did you research for your book?  

In all ways possible. Traditional history and sociology; the memoirs  and narratives of Negroland inhabitants going back to the 18th century; interviews and conversations, some formal, some not; notes I’d been taking for years; diaries I’d scribbled in for years.

Which non-fiction authors do you admire?

So many. This is embarrassingly partial. The criticism of Shaw, Woolf, Ellison and Hardwick; the essays of Baldwin and Rodriguez, the memoirs of Viktor Shklovsky and Adrienne Kennedy. 

What are you working on next?  

A cultural memoir of fancies and obsessions.

In Negroland: A Memoir, you begin one chapter with a letter your mother wrote to her friend, while she and your father were living in segregated army accommodation during the war. Could you tell us more about this?

I wanted to show the counterpoint in black life: that “being a Negro” means perpetual struggle (literal and psychological); that being a Negro means everyday intimacies, shared experiences and pleasures; that being a Negro means moving easily across colour lines. (Jane Eyre, and Lena Horne, sorority gossip and Army base bigotry, lively young-wife-and -mother-chit chat against the backdrop of war).  

When my mother says she’s so happy she almost forgets being a Negro, it’s a shock. But of course we can and do forget. And then we remember.  And then we try to compose something new from of this forgetting and remembering.

What would it mean if some - if most - if all white people could say: “I’m so happy, sometimes I almost forget I’m a white person?”

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