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When Danzy Senna’s parents got married in 1968, they seemed poised to defy history. They were two brilliant young American writers from wildly divergent backgrounds—a white woman with a blue-blood Bostonian lineage and a black man, the son of a struggling single mother and an unknown father. They married in a year that seemed to separate the past from the present; together, these two would snub the histories that divided them and embrace a radical future. When their marriage disintegrated eight years later, it was, as one friend put it, “the ugliest divorce in Boston’s history”—a violent, traumatic war that felt all the more heartrending given the hopeful symbolism of their union.
Decades later, Senna looks back not only at her parents’ divorce but beyond it, to the opposing American histories that her parents had tried so hard to overcome. On her mother’s side of the family she finds—in carefully preserved documents—the chronicle of a white America both illustrious and shameful. On her father’s she discovers, through fragments and shreds of evidence, a no less remarkable history. As she digs deeper into this unwritten half of the story, she reconstructs a longburied family mystery that illuminates her own childhood. In the process, she begins to understand her difficult father, the power and failure of her parents’ union, and, finally, the forces of history.
Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is at once a potent statement of personal identity, a challenging look at the murky waters of American ancestry, and an exploration of narratives—the narratives we create and those we forget. Senna has given us an unforgettable testimony to the paradoxes—the pain and the pride—embedded in history, family, and race.
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Danzy Senna is the author of the novels Caucasia and Symptomatic.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT?
In 1975 my mother left my father for the last time. We fled to Guilford, Connecticut. It was a rich town, but we rented an apartment in a tenement that the town's residents referred to only as "the welfare house." The backyard was a heap of dead cars. We lived on the second floor. Below us lived the town's other nonwhite residents, a Korean war bride and her two half-Italian sons. Beside them lived an obese white woman and her teenage son.I don't know if we were officially hiding out from my father there--or if he knew where we were all that time. In my memory it seems that a long time passed before we saw him again, long enough for me to forget him. And I remember the day he reappeared. I was five, and I heard the doorbell ring. I raced in bare feet to see who was there. I saw, at the bottom of the dimly lit stairwell, a man. His face was hidden in the shadows, but I could make out black curls, light brown skin."Hi, baby," he called up to me.I stared back."Don't you know who I am?"I shook my head."You don't know who I am?"I knew and I didn't know. I had memories of the man at the bottom of the stairwell, both good and bad--but I could not say who he was. I only knew that I had known him, back there in the city, and the sight of him now made me uneasy.My mother emerged behind me in a housedress. I heard a sound in her throat--a gasp or a sigh--when she saw whom I was talking to."See that?" the man shouted up at her. "See what you've done? She doesn't even know who I am. My own child doesn't recognize me."I began to cry, perhaps recalling now all that we had fled. My mother shushed me. "It's your father," she said, gathering me into her arms. I turned to watch him come toward us up the stairs.Thirty years later, and he's still asking me that question. "Don't you know who I am?"Copyright © 2009 by Danzy Senna
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Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0374289158
Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0374289158
Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110374289158