negroland jefferson

Negroland by Margo Jefferson

Negroland by Margo JeffersonNegroland by Margo Jefferson
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 8th 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 256
Buy from IndieBound


It feels like a bit of a disservice to call Negroland a memoir. Though Margo Jefferson’s memories of life as an upper class black child in Chicago fill the pages of the book, the overall effect is much more than what we tend to associate with the format. It is the work of someone who knows and loves poetic voices and has searched for meaning in them her whole life. It picks up history, flows through the past, and draws a direct line to the present.

Jefferson highlights difficult, thought-provoking questions of privilege alongside notes on pop culture and fashion. Yet, everything from the actors she adored as a child to the embarrassment of wearing glasses is explained from her unique perspective. This is most powerful when she touches on her struggle with depression, which she found at odds with the expectations for black women.

“Because our people had endured horrors and prevailed, even triumphed, their descendants should be too strong and too proud for such behavior. We were to be ladies, responsible Negro women, and indomitable Black Women. We were not to be depressed or unduly high-strung; we were not to have nervous collapses. We had a legacy. We were too strong for that.”

Those polarized feelings are at the core of the book, which takes readers into spaces rarely explored and does so in engaging, beautiful prose. Jefferson’s raw reflection and vibrant talent combine to make Negroland a surprising and powerful must-read.


  • I’m looking forward to this one – I put it on reserve at the library after you mentioned that you really enjoyed it. I wish there was an audiobook version. I would definitely get to it soon on audiobook, but I’ll have to play library hold roulette and hope I can start it whenever my hold comes in!

    • It would be great to be able to hear Margo Jefferson narrate, too – I wonder if there’s one in the works. I’ve heard her on a few podcasts recently and she talks about all of this in a really great way.

  • I’ve got my eye on this one. I loved the quote you shared and didn’t realize she suffered from depression. And, her perspective on the expectations about her depression is interesting…definitely would like to read more…

    • It was something I didn’t expect to encounter, but was so glad she included it…it was something I hadn’t considered before.

  • Glad to hear you liked this book. I’m looking forward to reading it, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • A great quote that makes me think of my sister. I think I’ll mention this one to her – thanks!

  • Vasilly

    Sadly, that quote is still true even now. Thanks for reviewing this one! I’ll probably get to it soon.

    • I hadn’t thought about it before reading this, but I can definitely see how there could be a pressure to project a sense of strength. It was an eye-opening read for me.

  • vcb

    I also have this on hold at the library. I’m curious to see how much of what she writes is still relevant today.

    • She raises some great questions about privilege from several different points in her life that seem like they could still be applied to similar situations today.

  • I’ve had my eye on this one, but now I’m REALLY looking forward to it. I know I put it on my library wish list, but may actually go get on the hold list despite my New September’s Resolution to stop getting library books and read some of the fabulous fare on my own damn shelf. :)

    • I totally need to start utilizing my library wish list instead of adding everything to hold…and ending up with piles I can’t read at once.

      • Lauren @ Malcolm Avenue Review

        When you figure out how to break that cycle, you let me know.

  • Christy

    Thanks for this review! I put this on my to-read list as soon as I read about it, but I think this is the first blog review I’ve seen.

    • I haven’t been seeing it much, either, though I’ve heard some great interviews with Margo Jefferson on NPR and a few podcasts.

  • It’s interesting that it touches on areas rarely explored. Sounds powerful. I’m game. Thanks

  • I’m a bit tired of books that are advertised as being about one topic and then turn out to be mostly memoirs, because they often don’t take as broad a view of the topic. This seems like it might be the opposite case, where a book billed as a memoir actually does a great job talking about bigger themes.

  • Pingback: Reading Wrap-Up: September 2015()

  • Pingback: Giveaway: Help Me Clear My Shelves - River City Reading()

  • Pingback: Favorite Nonfiction of 2015 - River City Reading()