Race, Music, and American Ghost Stories
Hari Kunzru, Margo Jefferson & Kevin Nguyen
Race, Music, and American Ghost Stories

A special discussion about music and the ghosts of America’s racial past featuring two highly acclaimed authors. A murder mystery, a ghost story, and two cultural tourists collide in Hari Kunzru’s spellbinding novel White Tears (Knopf, 2017), which connects contemporary cultural appropriation and white hawkers of black music with the history of racism and the forgotten geniuses of American music and Delta Mississippi Blues. Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Margo Jefferson’s classic work of cultural criticism, On Michael Jackson (Pantheon, 2005), a complex and tender portrait of the King of Pop, reckons with child stardom and the specter of racial ghosts that shaped his celebrity. She’ll read from her evolving work on Michael Jackson and current writing on jazz singers. Moderated by Kevin Nguyen, senior editor at GQ.


Seth and Carter, two young music-obsessed culture vultures, find themselves thrust into a murder mystery involving the ghost of a blues musician that takes Seth to Mississippi, unraveling the depth of the history of racism and exploitation in music. The New York Times writes, “White Tears is distinguished by a knowledge of blues at its deepest, a gift for observation at its most penetrating and stretches of plain old marvelous writing.” Slate raves, “Call it a ghost story or a rumination on art, possession and responsibility—or both—it has all the force of a truth that can be neither denied nor buried—at least not for long.” Hari Kunzru is the author of four previous novels: The Impressionist, Transmission, My Revolutions, and Gods Without Men. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Public Library, and the American Academy in Berlin. Check out his piece written in response to F.N. Souza’s painting “Degenerates” in The Margins.

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 2016 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.

Kevin Nguyen is Senior Editor at GQ Magazine, where he writes about books, music and popular media. White Tears is his favorite book he read in 2017 “by a mile,” calling it a “tremendous, smart, weird book.” Kevin was formerly a book reviewer for Grantland, and has published in The Paris Review, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and The Millions.

This event will be livestreamed on the Asian American Writers’ Facebook page.

*The space is wheelchair accessible. No stairs. Direct elevator from ground floor to 6th floor.
*We strongly encourage all participants of the space/event to be scent-free.
If you all have any other specific questions about accessibility, please email Tiffany Le at tle@aaww.org with any questions on reserving priority seating.

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Race, Music, and American Ghost Stories

Hari Kunzru, Margo Jefferson & Kevin Nguyen
Thursday, January 25, 2018
7:00 PM
Asian American Writers Workshop
112 W. 27th Street
New York New York 10001
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