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Margo Jefferson

On Learning From New York:
Everyone's always going to some other neighborhood. You start sampling the food. Or if you're Irving Berlin or Eubie Blake, or any jazz musician, you're going to hear other kinds of music, you're going to Broadway. You're learning how Victor Herbert constructs a waltz, even though you're a ragtime pianist.

On American Cities:
I think, probably, socially, in some ways New York may be the least American city. It represents too many things that Americans really don't entirely want in their lives. You know, I pray to God it is, and will remain, the most American of cities, because it is the urban equivalent of that thing that all Americans seem to cherish, which is this myth of our constant ability to find new frontiers, to change, to adapt, to follow some kind of dream vision that is pragmatic but also utopian.

On New York As A Place For Artists:
New York, for decades, offered a perpetual series of "golden ages" to artists. You constantly had to measure yourself against the best and you had to watch them, which meant that your imagination and also your sense of what the market could stand got very, very sharp. You could also travel across the country, find out what other people wanted, then bring it back to New York. New Yorkers know how to borrow wildly. You know, Louis Armstrong was not a New York musician. He went from New Orleans to Chicago to New York and when he arrived here, he taught those New Yorkers. New York needs that infusion.

On Reinventing Yourself:
You're supported by everything in New York if you want to be a performing artist. You come here, you can change your name. You leave home, you come here, you're severed from family obligations -- the old identity drops away as soon as you come to New York because you're coming to New York, if you're an artist, to be someone else. Already, you're performing. It's all in the streets around you, and the speed, and the way people talk about their first impressions of New York, the images they use. Duke Ellington says it's the "Arabian Nights." Somebody else says, I think it's Edna St. Vincent Millay, "you can hear the noise." There's this sense of being dislocated from all your usual organs, sensory apparatus, if you will. You're in a fairy tale, your senses are completely dismembered in some way and you reconstitute yourself.

Margo Jefferson
Jefferson is a cultural critic for the NEW YORK TIMES. In 1995 she received a Pulitzer Prize for her writing. She has been a staff writer for NEWSWEEK and a contributing editor to VOGUE and 7 DAYS. Her reviews and essays have also appeared in THE NATION, GRAND STREET, THE VILLAGE VOICE, AMERICAN THEATER, DANCE INK, and HARPER'S. She has been a professor of Journalism at New York University, and a lecturer in literature and popular culture at Columbia University, where she also received her M.S.