The BKBF Interview kicks off this week with Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson! This weekly series of Q&As features some of this year’s Festival Day authors. Tune in on Sunday, October 2 as Margo Jefferson – recipient of the 2022 Windham-Campbell Prize – joins fellow memoirists in a virtual BKBF panel discussion.
Where is your favorite place to read and why?
Leaving gorgeous vacation landscapes aside, my armchair by the window, the little park across the street and my bed by lamplight.
What’s the last book that had you reading past your bedtime?
Ivy Pochoda’s These Women. “Literary crime fiction’” is a tepid phrase for her closely observed, fiercely imagined novels.
Tell us your best book-receiving experience.
I still love the books my mother gave me each Christmas when I was growing up. Always inscribed “To Margo, from Mother, Christmas” and the year. Those I still have (and read) include Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester, Mary Chase’s Loretta Mason Potts and Gwendolyn Brooks’ Selected Poems.
What books are currently piled in your “To Be Read” stack?
I have several “To Be Read” stacks, but as it happens, I’ve begun all of the books on my night table: You Don’t Know Us Negroes, by Zora Neale Hurston; Falling In Love, by Donna Leon; Dickens & Democracy in the Age of Paper by Carolyn Berman. The gorgeous British magazine INQUE, is a staple now, whether I’m reading a text or gazing at an image.
What book do you return to most often, whether passages or whole?
Emily Dickinson’s poems. I can always trust that something there will make me feel like the top of my head is being taken off. That’s how she described poetry, and that feeling sends me off to read contemporary poets.
What advice would you give to your 10 year-old self?
“Margo,” I’d say,”you have plenty of spirit right now. But adolescence lurks. Don’t let it make you so eager to please and so eager to blend in.”
The winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, MARGO JEFFERSON previously served as book and arts critic for Newsweek and the New York Times. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, Vogue, New York Magazine, The Nation, and Guernica. Her memoir, Negroland, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. She is also the author of On Michael Jackson and is a professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts. Her latest work is Constructing a Nervous System.