In 1968, Danzy Senna's parents were at the forefront of racial issues in America: two young American writers from 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 because it had once seemed like the couple would overcome the social constructs of the era. Senna reflects not only on her parents’ divorce but on 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).
"When she got married in 1968, Fanny Howe, a poet and novelist descended from a long line of prominent white Americans, wore a gold lamé minidress. Her husband-to-be was Carl Senna, a handsome black writer born of poverty and uncertain parentage. Taking place just one year after the Supreme Court overturned the country's last anti-miscegenation laws, their union was about much more than two people—it was celebrated as a kind of community achievement. In her stirring new memoir, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, their daughter, Danzy Senna (author of the novels Caucasia and Symptomatic), sorts through the wreckage of that marriage, which collapsed into disappointment and violence when she was a child. In coming together, she reflects, her parents 'tried to shed their respective origins,' raising their children 'in a state of willful amnesia.' But those origins refused to be so blithely cast off. A fine storyteller, Senna scrutinizes old photographs, tracks down distant family members and initiates an awkward road trip with her charismatic, volatile father, in which they drive through the South in search of the truth about his tattered past. Her clear-eyed pursuit of her father's story is driven by a sense of responsibility as much as by curiosity, complicated by that fact that their relationship is excruciatingly strained. Caught between her parents' divergent histories, Senna finds her own identity at odds with itself, despite having been cultivated in a sort of bohemian "new world order." Senna relates these winding, uncertain stories with a sense of quiet devastation. She's as fiercely driven to unearth her parents' pasts as they were eager to rise above them."—Eryn Loeb, Time Out New York
"Danzy Senna could compare notes on the failings of fathers with Barack Obama. Like the president, she is the offspring of an interracial marriage that mirrored the hopes and disappointments of the volatile '60s. In each case, the marriage collapsed because of an intelligent, talented black man's inability to rise above his personal weaknesses. Obama was lucky: his loser dad returned to Kenya a few years after he was born. Senna's father became a fixture in her life. And yet in her revealing new memoir, she acknowledges the unintended benefits of his poisonous influence . . . Senna's spare style allows her to maintain control of this emotionally painful material . . . Her descriptive skills are precise, with humor and humanity shining through at unexpected moments. An impressive feat, packing so much into a short book. Saul Bellow dubbed them 'reality instructors,' these con men who teach important life lessons while taking advantage of you. This is the two-edged role Senna's father has played. 'Because I am his black creation at the end of the day,' Senna admits. 'Without him I would be nothing—a WASP with a permanent tan; without him I would have no point of view, no fire.'"—Ariel Gonzalez, The Miami Herald
Danzy Senna is the author of the novels Caucasia and Symptomatic.