Profile: Margo Jefferson

Margo Lillian Jefferson (born October 17, 1947) is an American writer and academic.

Jefferson received her B.A. from Brandeis University, where she graduated cum laude, and her M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She became an associate editor at Newsweek in 1973 and stayed at the magazine until 1978. She then served as an assistant professor at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at New York University from 1979 to 1983 and from 1989 to 1991. Since then she has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, where she is now professor of professional practice in writing. Jefferson also taught at The New School’s Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts. 



She joined The New York Times in 1993, initially as a book reviewer,  then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She also served as the newspaper’s theater critic in 2004.  In addition to the Times, she has written for Vogue, New York Magazine, The Nation, and Guernica.

Jefferson appeared in Ken Burns’s 2001 documentary series Jazz as jazz is a subject that interests her. Her 2006 book, On Michael Jackson was described by Publishers Weekly as a “slim, smart volume of cultural analysis.” According to Lucy Scholes in The Independent: “The excellent On Michael Jackson is not a straightforward biography, nor is it an attempt to claim either his innocence or his guilt when it comes to the child abuse scandals that, although he was acquitted, haunt his afterlife. A ‘deciphering’ is probably the most accurate description of the book, the shrewd playfulness of Jefferson’s prose the perfect vehicle for analysis that’s as smart as it is readable.” 

Jefferson’s autobiographical book, Negroland, was published to acclaim in 2015. It was described by Dwight Garner in The New York Times as a “powerful and complicated memoir”,  and by Margaret Busby in The Sunday Times as “utterly compelling”, while Anita Sethi wrote in The Observer: “Jefferson fascinatingly explores how her personal experience intersected with politics, from the civil rights movement to feminism, as well as history before her birth.”

Jefferson is a contributor to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa.

  • 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, winner for her book reviews and other cultural analyses in The New York Times.
  • 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award (Autobiography), winner for her memoir Negroland.

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