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Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir

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Stunning for her daring originality, the author of Negroland gives us what she calls "a temperamental autobiography," comprised of visceral, intimate fragments that fuse criticism and memoir. Margo Jefferson constructs a nervous system with pieces of different lengths and tone, conjoining arts writing (poem, song, performance) with life writing (history, psychology). Th Stunning for her daring originality, the author of Negroland gives us what she calls "a temperamental autobiography," comprised of visceral, intimate fragments that fuse criticism and memoir. Margo Jefferson constructs a nervous system with pieces of different lengths and tone, conjoining arts writing (poem, song, performance) with life writing (history, psychology). The book's structure is determined by signal moments of her life, those that trouble her as well as those that thrill and restore. In this nervous system: - The sounds of a black spinning disc of a 1950's jazz LP as intimate and instructive as a parent's voice. - The muscles and movements of a ballerina, spliced with those of an Olympic runner: template for what a female body could be. - Harriet Beecher Stowe's Topsy finds her way into the art of Kara Walker and the songs of C�cile McLorin Salvant. - Bing Crosby and Ike Turner become alter egos. - W.E.B. DuBois and George Eliot meet illicitly, as he appropriates lines from her story "The Hidden Veil" to write his famous "behind the veil" passages in The Souls of Black Folk. - The words of multiple others (writers, singers, film characters, friends, family) act as prompts and as dialogue. The fragments of this brilliant book, while not neglecting family, race, and class, are informed by a kind of aesthetic drive: longing, ecstasy, or even acute ambivalence. Constructing a nervous system is Jefferson's relentlessly galvanizing mis en scene for unconventional storytelling as well as a platform for unexpected dramatis personae.


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Stunning for her daring originality, the author of Negroland gives us what she calls "a temperamental autobiography," comprised of visceral, intimate fragments that fuse criticism and memoir. Margo Jefferson constructs a nervous system with pieces of different lengths and tone, conjoining arts writing (poem, song, performance) with life writing (history, psychology). Th Stunning for her daring originality, the author of Negroland gives us what she calls "a temperamental autobiography," comprised of visceral, intimate fragments that fuse criticism and memoir. Margo Jefferson constructs a nervous system with pieces of different lengths and tone, conjoining arts writing (poem, song, performance) with life writing (history, psychology). The book's structure is determined by signal moments of her life, those that trouble her as well as those that thrill and restore. In this nervous system: - The sounds of a black spinning disc of a 1950's jazz LP as intimate and instructive as a parent's voice. - The muscles and movements of a ballerina, spliced with those of an Olympic runner: template for what a female body could be. - Harriet Beecher Stowe's Topsy finds her way into the art of Kara Walker and the songs of C�cile McLorin Salvant. - Bing Crosby and Ike Turner become alter egos. - W.E.B. DuBois and George Eliot meet illicitly, as he appropriates lines from her story "The Hidden Veil" to write his famous "behind the veil" passages in The Souls of Black Folk. - The words of multiple others (writers, singers, film characters, friends, family) act as prompts and as dialogue. The fragments of this brilliant book, while not neglecting family, race, and class, are informed by a kind of aesthetic drive: longing, ecstasy, or even acute ambivalence. Constructing a nervous system is Jefferson's relentlessly galvanizing mis en scene for unconventional storytelling as well as a platform for unexpected dramatis personae.

30 review for Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    I am a fan of Margo Jefferson's cultural criticism which always reflects her sensibilities and unique voice. This is a lovely, unexpected book. It has a really interesting structure, one that feels like a nervous system, sprawling but tightly connected. It is part memoir, part cultural criticism, with very stylish writing and an impeccably lush vocabulary. I am a fan of Margo Jefferson's cultural criticism which always reflects her sensibilities and unique voice. This is a lovely, unexpected book. It has a really interesting structure, one that feels like a nervous system, sprawling but tightly connected. It is part memoir, part cultural criticism, with very stylish writing and an impeccably lush vocabulary.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Miya (in a puddle of pain)

    This was beautiful. I really enjoyed it. Short and sweet. Relatable. All around a lovely read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I took my time reading this, and I am glad to have done so. I may have read Maggie Nelson and Hanif Abdurraqib and Elizabeth Alexander and Ross Gay and Natalie Diaz and Natasha Trethewey before this, but they rest their work upon the stack of writing Margo Jefferson has been producing for decades.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Oscreads

    This is my type of memoir. I loved it. Jefferson’s voice is so strong.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chiara Coletti

    A beautiful book. Constructing a Nervous System is the impressionistic memoir of the critical life of Margo Jefferson. It is a study of identity composed of heredity, upbringing, race, gender, and culture. In this unfurling of the influences that made the critic Margo Jefferson who she is, we discover the experiences and unique genius that made her favorite (or most intriguing or influential) artists who they were, a wide-ranging array: Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Billy Holiday, Willa Cather, A beautiful book. Constructing a Nervous System is the impressionistic memoir of the critical life of Margo Jefferson. It is a study of identity composed of heredity, upbringing, race, gender, and culture. In this unfurling of the influences that made the critic Margo Jefferson who she is, we discover the experiences and unique genius that made her favorite (or most intriguing or influential) artists who they were, a wide-ranging array: Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Billy Holiday, Willa Cather, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bud Powell, Ike Turner, and among the most memorable, Josephine Baker. In the process, she reveals, both headlong and obliquely, a little of who she is. This is never so true as in her internal dialogue about Ella Fitzgerald, a goddess and sometimes an embarrassment to women of her own race: her "sweat and size." An impeccable product of the Black bourgeoisie, Jefferson is haunted by the perfect standards her mother imposed on her and the low expectations imposed by a dominant white society. I found the book to be exquisite and joyous for what it says and sometimes painful for what it doesn't.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    The 👑 does not disappoint.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Reber

    I read Constructing A Nervous System by Margo Jefferson on two levels, and I had to read it twice, with my iPhone or laptop at hand, to absorb just a fraction of it. Margo holds a Pulitzer for criticism, steeped in the literary and music culture of America - black and non-black, from Ella Fitzgerald to Willa Cather. Using her brilliance and analytical genius, she takes you on a journey through her life, growing up with her older sister Denise in an affluent Black Chicago household, listening to I read Constructing A Nervous System by Margo Jefferson on two levels, and I had to read it twice, with my iPhone or laptop at hand, to absorb just a fraction of it. Margo holds a Pulitzer for criticism, steeped in the literary and music culture of America - black and non-black, from Ella Fitzgerald to Willa Cather. Using her brilliance and analytical genius, she takes you on a journey through her life, growing up with her older sister Denise in an affluent Black Chicago household, listening to records - Billy Eckstein, Johnny Hartman, Bobby Short, Ike and Tina, West Side Story, Marvin Gaye, Thelonius Monk - acting some of them out with her sister. She writes of her deep conflicts over parents who expect her to be perfect and not "waste" her life as a strong representative of her race; of her resentment against whites for their arrogant privilege; of her perception and admiration of Ike Turner (despite her feminism) whose "foul radiance haunts me still." She writes of her adolescent struggles with her own body image; her love and admiration of Ella Fitzgerald's music despite her abhorrence of her on-stage sweating. Yet Louis Armstrong can sweat and he's a man and it's not abhorrent, she admits. There are entire explorations of artists' lives - Josephine Baker, the epitome of a woman who turned the disadvantage of her skin color to become famous and exploited; Willa Cather, whose literary ability garners praise from Margo yet resentment for Cather's repeated emphasis of the heroine's "milky white skin" (The Song of the Lark). Margo's professional journey from journalism at Newsweek to criticism at The New York Times has taken her to her current work as a professor of creative writing at Columbia University, where she writes of her struggle to TEACH The Song of the Lark and its racist undertone without alienating her mostly white students: "...I DID brood on my racial grievances. I resented my students' leisure ... I knew they all had their own sufferings, some of which I'D been spared ... But their ancestors had made sure they were spared my kind of suffering. I brooded, I resented, I obsessed." I quote this passage to show the honesty with which Margo wrote this, her second memoir after "Negroland: a Memoir". This is an honest and deep memoir which educates as well as shares the very personal anger and delight Margo has had in her life. For me, it is essential reading if you want to understand American culture. --- PAT REBER, JUNE 2022

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jack Wagner

    A glitter chain. Jefferson catalogs decades of American brilliance as herself. The form is doubtlessly one of the most playful things I’ve been able to sit with. I felt like an editor, a friend, the various nodes of her nervous system listening to her stage directions. It’s no easy read. Jefferson’s memoir of these cultural touchstones, herself, delights in our inherent passive fragmentations, induced by our impressions of history, culture, and space and also the deliberate, active fragmentings A glitter chain. Jefferson catalogs decades of American brilliance as herself. The form is doubtlessly one of the most playful things I’ve been able to sit with. I felt like an editor, a friend, the various nodes of her nervous system listening to her stage directions. It’s no easy read. Jefferson’s memoir of these cultural touchstones, herself, delights in our inherent passive fragmentations, induced by our impressions of history, culture, and space and also the deliberate, active fragmentings we subject ourselves to. As she literally rewrites famous texts and lines to meet her own needs, she redefines the act of writing to be utterly for the text itself, as a potential, always multiple, nervous system for herself. And how do you “rate” a memoir … or any book. Stupid.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tuesday Rabinski

    "GO ON" I've long been anticipating Margo Jefferson's follow-up to the sublime "Negroland," which, next to Anne Boyer's "The Undying," is, I think, one of the finest, ground-breaking memoirs of the twenty-first century. "Constructing a Nervous System" is performed in a different register that acknowledges then resists and refuses to be constricted and confined by the conventions of the genre that powered the former: it is looser, freer, alive, more associative, less baggy, sharper, so so funny ( "GO ON" I've long been anticipating Margo Jefferson's follow-up to the sublime "Negroland," which, next to Anne Boyer's "The Undying," is, I think, one of the finest, ground-breaking memoirs of the twenty-first century. "Constructing a Nervous System" is performed in a different register that acknowledges then resists and refuses to be constricted and confined by the conventions of the genre that powered the former: it is looser, freer, alive, more associative, less baggy, sharper, so so funny ("You still speak Ebonics"), acerbic and astute, and even more erudite, though that should come to no surprise for readers of this stylish literary diva. Iconoclast? She, without a doubt, has the range. She made me widen my eyes, opened doors in my critical mind, was able to surface memories in my life I'd repressed (and also childhood attachments to her attachments: Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Etta James, Marianne Moore). I, too, refuse to get married, suffer through my painful solitude, the solace of my chastity, internalize the lives of my beloveds, observe and note, criticize, try to find the right outlet for all this energy: Jefferson offers a way out of a preternatural sensitivity to the world, of being an attentive reader who wants to write. Additionally there is a series of hard-won advice for would-be writers peppered throughout. This book, a dream, begins with a dream, and ends with an imagined question by her grandmother. Though I did not always know who it was she was writing about (Bud Powell and Ike Turner, for instance), immediately after finishing a chapter I went onto YouTube and acquainted myself with her references, made them my own (my favourite encounter was being attuned to the bead of sweat (Or should we say diaphoresis?) falling down Ms. Fitzgerald's cheek during a performance of "Summertime," the way that I was suddenly able to understand the politics of her daintily dabbing her brow was so thrilling). There is enough personal testimony and critical analysis to make even what is not familiar to you feel so, which makes this an inviting book, one that is always in conversation with the reader, never speaking down or excluding us. After all these years of writing and thinking critically, Ms. Jefferson has nailed the fine balance between being exhaustive without ever being exhausting. And how tender our reliable narrator is. She is not afraid of checking herself every now and then, disclosing unbecoming truths and owning up to them. I, too, was a moody but precocious child who looked for "avatars" to form the "self," but for me it was white actresses. Until now I did not have the language for what I've been doing, to have such an understanding of my artistic temperament. I have the desire; but do I have the will? I was deeply, deeply moved. I read this in two sittings, one day apart (there is only so much I can stay at the elevated plane of her thought; like a sprinter keeping up with a marathon runner), but I breezed through these pages with such pleasure, such relish, such bliss. If you liked Vivian Gornick's "The Odd Woman And the City," or Saidiya Hartman's "Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments," there are plenty opportunities to have images from those book to be refreshed in memory, but the book, formally at least, stands alone: I can't think of anything like it: it is a model of how a cultural, temperamental autobiography can be pulled off. Jefferson somehow seemingly effortlessly fuses the words of George Eliot and W.E.B. Dubois, does a close reading of the work of Willa Cather I've never seen the likes of before, and we fortunately get to read about her late sister, Denise Jefferson, and her love life (this section reminded me of Annie Ernaux's "Simple Passion"). And the syntax? The rhythms? Those fragmented sentences? The theatrical imaginations and meta scenes? Lo! When Margo Jefferson uses a semi-colon you straighten your back: I always learn a thing or two about what is possible from her writing. This was the best book I've read in a long time. "Read on." *Thank you to NetGalley and Pantheon for making this e-ARC available to me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    vignesh

    GOOOD

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    My only complaint about this book - it ended too soon. My thanks to NetGalley and Pantheon for an ebook ARC of this title. I put her earlier "Negroland" to the side, and started reading this instead the evening I received access to it. Half way through, I ordered a copy of "Michael Jackson" as well. A creative highbred between memoir and cultural criticism. It begins with a prologue that reminded me of the start of a Greek tragedy, a discussion of what is to come and why. Not surprising, given tha My only complaint about this book - it ended too soon. My thanks to NetGalley and Pantheon for an ebook ARC of this title. I put her earlier "Negroland" to the side, and started reading this instead the evening I received access to it. Half way through, I ordered a copy of "Michael Jackson" as well. A creative highbred between memoir and cultural criticism. It begins with a prologue that reminded me of the start of a Greek tragedy, a discussion of what is to come and why. Not surprising, given that Jefferson was a NYT's drama critic for years (what is surprising is that no dramas are dealt with here). A bit of stream of consciousness going on here (or branching out every which way, like the nervous system of the title), but it is also obvious that it has been thought about, and considered, and rewritten, over time. A variety of fonts and highlights are used. Unattributed quotations are often included within the text, with the source provided in the Notes at the back of the book. She often reworks quotations (she makes the changes obvious, no subterfuge here), and her representation of Janet Malcolm's quotation on journalists (now repurposed for critics here) is a whopper! She often writes about music, and the part on Ella Fitzgerald and sweat is well worth the price of admission! Willa Cather (a wonderful example of the consideration academic instructors can go through when deciding how to present a text to their class) and "Gone With the Wind" get some time too. I wish she had spent more than a of couple pages on a comparison between James Baldwin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Outspoken, who else would get so quickly to the point that while Bing Cosby (one of her childhood favorites!) was slying smiling and crooning and playing priests on the Big Screen, he essentially had abandoned his wife to the alcoholism that killed her, and from which she had saved him just a few years earlier. Or that 2 of his 4 children committed suicide. It is exciting to watch her brilliance at work, and I pretty much burned through this short work (I think it is a little over 200 pp of text). Even though it was late at night, I wanted to go on to the next chapter. I'm looking forward to reading her other books in the next couple of weeks. Outstanding.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jack Wolfe

    Margo Jefferson's "Constructing a Nervous System" pairs well with Hanif Abdurraqib's "A Little Devil in America," another recent fusion of memoir and criticism by a great black writer. Both books use works of art, music, and literature to get at the souls of their writers; both reject simple narrative or chronological structures in favor of organizations that are stranger and more oblique; both contain long tributes to Josephine Baker. These are books that slot in well with the still prevailing Margo Jefferson's "Constructing a Nervous System" pairs well with Hanif Abdurraqib's "A Little Devil in America," another recent fusion of memoir and criticism by a great black writer. Both books use works of art, music, and literature to get at the souls of their writers; both reject simple narrative or chronological structures in favor of organizations that are stranger and more oblique; both contain long tributes to Josephine Baker. These are books that slot in well with the still prevailing literary mania that is "autofiction" but that also do their own curious things. Or should I say... serious things? What both Abdurraqib and Jefferson are trying to do goes so far beyond navel gazing, and they come to conclusions personal and political that manage complexity without wallowing in an endless sea of confusion and bewilderment... I prefer Jefferson's book, I think. If Abdurraqib is a maximalist, trying to capture every feeling in every thing with long, lush sentences about tears and dancing and graves, Jefferson is a minimalist, sort of alighting on her emotions here and there, but soon flying away to other things, mostly via shorter, more careful, more considered lines. I love the way she turns her critical eye first on things-- the works of Willa Cather, Ella Fitzgerald, Du Bois, and others-- and then back to herself... and then back to things. "Constructing a Nervous System" is not pretentious in the slightest, but its also not afraid to wear a certain sort of fun postmodernism on it sleeve. It's like a book of epigrams by the world's most self-conscious epigrammist, i.e. constantly wondering if its own lessons are really true or interesting (or waiting to replaced by an even deeper understanding). I'm just a sucker for books like these, and for perspectives/styles like Margo Jefferson's. Probably the fastest book I've read all year, and one that I'll certainly read again. Revisiting the first few pages after the book's sad (because sudden) end helps you see how subtly Jefferson has done her magic. The fire from "Ripping Off Black Music" (her great essay, which I read earlier this year) is still here, but more as a kind of glowing coal: warm and inviting but also still sort of dangerous to touch.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    This is an exciting book, showing that the possibilities for memoir are endless. I really enjoyed how Jefferson combined criticism with narrative. In many ways, this book felt a little above my smartness level. I didn't get all the references and I didn't always know exactly what was going on, but I was fascinated by how Jefferson writes about the Black Elite. I love how she writes about race. As a white woman, I am endlessly fascinated by race and I look to books by Jefferson and Claudia Rankin This is an exciting book, showing that the possibilities for memoir are endless. I really enjoyed how Jefferson combined criticism with narrative. In many ways, this book felt a little above my smartness level. I didn't get all the references and I didn't always know exactly what was going on, but I was fascinated by how Jefferson writes about the Black Elite. I love how she writes about race. As a white woman, I am endlessly fascinated by race and I look to books by Jefferson and Claudia Rankine and Eula Biss to help broaden my understanding and to confront my own shortcomings. I haven't read much about the Black Elite and it was so incredibly refreshing to read about Blackness that isn't about slavery. I am in the process of adoption and may be placed with a Black baby. I read Jefferson (and watch interviews with her on Youtube) so that I can educate myself. If I do end up having a Black child, I want to offer them narratives about the Black Elite and navigating spaces that are unfamiliar to me. I don't want every book I have in my house to be about slavery (although I just read Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad and loved it). I am a huge fan of Margo Jefferson. I started "Negroland" but didn't finish it b/c it was due at the library and I didn't renew. I want to go back and read it now that I've read Constructing. Thank you to Margo Jefferson for writing this book. I will loyally follow her work.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Merricat Blackwood

    I didn’t love this book as much as I loved Negroland. It doesn’t have the bildungsroman anchoring the cultural criticism, and without that throughline I think the criticism can feel a little too much like just a long chain of adjectives. However, I think the section about Willa Cather is the single best thing I’ve read on the subject of reading “problematic” literature. It attacks a cascading succession of emotions with precision and dignity: the pure aesthetic love of a piece of art that disdai I didn’t love this book as much as I loved Negroland. It doesn’t have the bildungsroman anchoring the cultural criticism, and without that throughline I think the criticism can feel a little too much like just a long chain of adjectives. However, I think the section about Willa Cather is the single best thing I’ve read on the subject of reading “problematic” literature. It attacks a cascading succession of emotions with precision and dignity: the pure aesthetic love of a piece of art that disdains you; the desire to love it unencumbered, the way other people have the privilege to; the fear of being pitied if you speak about the conflict, the desire not to be pathetic, the desire not to give someone else the relief of knowing that you have a burden they don’t have. I feel like I’ve faced down books that hate me in exactly this sequence of ways: demanding the right to be free to love whatever I love, demanding the right to read with pure interest in words and without an “identity” around my neck, and then having to dodge and rally and regroup over and over when I realize that those tactics fail. Jefferson narrates this with no sentimentality and a complete avoidance of cant.

  15. 4 out of 5

    3 Things About This Book

    I might need to read this book some other time again. As much as I learnt a lot about history through this memoir, I had hard time staying in it. I know this was a ARC and things might be edited but there were few sections that I liked: “In that 1975 (or 6) journal, I ended my silent rant about the proper way to honor and eulogize black grandmothers with these words: You say you're tired for what your grandmother did? You should be tired because, after all her hard work, if your grandmother were I might need to read this book some other time again. As much as I learnt a lot about history through this memoir, I had hard time staying in it. I know this was a ARC and things might be edited but there were few sections that I liked: “In that 1975 (or 6) journal, I ended my silent rant about the proper way to honor and eulogize black grandmothers with these words: You say you're tired for what your grandmother did? You should be tired because, after all her hard work, if your grandmother were alive she'd probably ask if you'd earned your right to be tired yet. In the privacy of my own psyche, I was not willing to give space to the figure of the generically tired Black Grandmother. Mine had worked unceasingly to will herself out of that role. And she had an early death to show for it. If she were alive, here now with me, what would she say? I think she'd say, quietly and not without tenderness: You haven't earned your right to be tired yet, have you, Donkey?” “Remember: Memoir is your present negotiating with versions of your past for a future you're willing to show up in”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Judy G

    I did not know Margo Jefferson and I know her quire well reading this writing which is more an essay that is very personal and yet important for all to read. She is brilliant and incredible putting together her thoughts in words. Here this black woman now in her fifties with solid reputation as a thinker and critic and someone who evaluates critiques what is current. Here she has stopped to evaluate her own life as an older important black woman and to look back at how she has viewed herself as I did not know Margo Jefferson and I know her quire well reading this writing which is more an essay that is very personal and yet important for all to read. She is brilliant and incredible putting together her thoughts in words. Here this black woman now in her fifties with solid reputation as a thinker and critic and someone who evaluates critiques what is current. Here she has stopped to evaluate her own life as an older important black woman and to look back at how she has viewed herself as a black woman and more importantly about the world of a black woman in the whiteness that is what is reality I am a white woman and reading this book more than a few lights went on for me to see life that whiteness has constructed and the cost of that for all. This is a thinking person's book and altho some of us will connect many may close it and move on ... We do have always lived in a rascist world where one group is able to rise to the top because we they have moved others below the top. There are costs and payoffs in this kind of rascist hate fueled operation... Judy g

  17. 5 out of 5

    theresa

    wahhhh this was so good that i just picked it up off the library shelf to thumb through it & i ended up reading the entire thing while standing right next to the shelf what the fuck 😭😭😭😭😭😭 i love how she weaves through so much powerful history especially of neurodivergent Black women (ella, josephine baker, janice kingslow) in such an unique style that is truly constructing fragments of memory bc it is truly never just the self !!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessie Martinovic

    Good writing is like sonic reverberation, it pours in an sparks synaptic chords, to re-wire the brain. What a lovely surprise it is to fall upon Margo Jefferson, a brilliant author and storyteller. I felt a better person for having listened. Plus, I have written extensive notes to take away from it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peter Adamson

    This was a rather unique reading/listening experience, both intellectually stimulating and somehow soothing at the same time. When Ms. Jefferson's essays wrestled with her pop culture influences, she reminded me a bit of Chuck Klosterman, though far less snarky and (obviously) through the lens of a woman of color. This was a rather unique reading/listening experience, both intellectually stimulating and somehow soothing at the same time. When Ms. Jefferson's essays wrestled with her pop culture influences, she reminded me a bit of Chuck Klosterman, though far less snarky and (obviously) through the lens of a woman of color.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Valeri Drach

    Margo Jefferson combines her cultural critics background with what formed her as a person. We get great insights into her as well as Josephine Baker, Sammy Davis Jr., James Baldwin and the family members who shaped her.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Adriane

    Beautiful. Fast paced and fragmented. As someone born in 1994 I learned a lot about people I’ve heard of but never knew intimately enough to integrate the lessons of their lives. A quick read when you make the time for it. Can’t wait to read other work by this author.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Olsen

    Really enjoying this ambitious book, which is full of surprises-- I'm also learning so much about Jefferson's cultural avatars (Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Nina Simone et al.) Not an easy read but a delight! Really enjoying this ambitious book, which is full of surprises-- I'm also learning so much about Jefferson's cultural avatars (Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Nina Simone et al.) Not an easy read but a delight!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    3.5 stars

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    The parts of this memoir/work of criticism were the parts that explored the lives of famous black women that the author felt some type of a connection to in her own life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pamster

    Josephine Baker part was stunning and I’ll reread.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    Really interesting insights about how we create our identities, drawing on others, looking for ourselves in music and performers, the relationship between art and self and perception

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    4.5 stars

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    Brilliant memoir. Brief but deeply layered. Almost poetry, really.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Riley T

    Loved the structure but some of the topics weren't very gripping. Loved the structure but some of the topics weren't very gripping.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kate O’Carroll

    Finally a book for “avid consumers of female glamour” ⭐️💖 Stans are scholars and scholars are stans

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