Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History
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When Danzy Senna's parents married in 1968, they seemed poised to defy history: two beautiful 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. When their marriage disintegrated eight years later, the violent, traumatic split felt all the more tragic for the hopeful symbolism it had once borne.
Decades later, Senna looks back not only at her parents' divorce but at the histories that they had tried so hard to overcome. In the tradition of James McBride's The Color of Water, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is "a stunningly rendered personal heritage that mirrors the complexities of race, class, and ethnicity in the United States" (Booklist).
these seemingly enlightened, unfettered foreign black people, and realizing that at the end of the day I felt at home only in the prison of America. Only there did I make sense. Our first stop was Houma, a bayou town where my father had spent a period of months as a boy. He wanted to show me the house where he’d lived, the school he’d attended. But it was lunchtime when we got there and we were both famished, so first we went searching for soul food. We wanted the real deal: cornbread and grits
a crazy tip, preposterously far-fetched, but my father insisted I follow it, and I promised him I would. I passed through Mississippi and into Alabama, and after a while I saw signs for Prichard, the town my father had scribbled on the paper, where the Zimmer Home had been—the place that had been, according to my father and J, the site of unspeakable acts of cruelty and impropriety toward children. In Prichard I found myself in the center of what looked like the end of the world. It was a
can’t, which keeps the mind occupied and that also helps the body. Betty Jean and I together puzzled over this strange last paragraph, that odd sentence: “I … never wished my troubles on anyone but Alice—should have saved her more from them.” We wondered aloud: Why did she wish her troubles on Alice? Because Alice was her real mother? Because that is what a daughter would wish on a mother who didn’t acknowledge her as a daughter? Betty Jean said she believed Anna knew her whole life that Alice
that time was obsessed with several ideas. He said that married women were equivalent to prostitutes. He thought many white people he met were actually black people passing as white. He was obsessed with the idea that black music was coded and that white people would never understand it. The first time my mother visited his apartment on Massachusetts Avenue near Symphony Hall, his mother showed up while they were there. She had come over to clean his place. My mother recalls being struck by this
related were they all to one another? Had Anna been telling the truth about a Mexican boxer? Had he even existed? Had she had three children by Francisco José, and was Carla just the accident with the priest at the end? Months later, my father, Carla, and his other sibling each got swabbed for a DNA test to find out the answer to how related they were. The test results showed that my father’s younger sibling and Carla share both parents. My father is a half sibling to them. This means my