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Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

A Personal History

Danzy Senna

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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.


BOOK EXCERPTS

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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
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REVIEWS

Praise for Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Praise for Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

“A keen examination of a utopian-minded marriage scarred by America’s racially divided past.” —Vogue
 
“Stirring . . . 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
 
“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.” —Ariel Gonzalez, Miami Herald
 
“[Senna is] masterly at relaying—and more important, withholding—information, so that every lead, every twist, begs for a page-flip . . . The author propels these early chapters along with the kind of snappy knockout prose Ross Macdonald might have employed, had he been given to long ruminations on race and identity in American culture . . . Her observations are often nod-inducingly brilliant.” —David Matthews, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Wistful yet bitter-toned . . . a haunting, introspective meditation on race and family ties that tackles the tricky questions involved in constructing identity.” —Publishers Weekly, Pick of the Week, March 9
 
“Senna, author of Caucasia and Symptomatic, offers a stunningly rendered personal heritage that mirrors the complexities of race, class, and ethnicity in the U.S.” —Booklist, starred review
 
“Quietly reflective and gorgeously written.” —Kirkus Reviews

“There are stories we need to find, and stories that must be told. In this masterful work of seeking and telling, hoping and letting go, Danzy Senna stalks her ancestral past like an attorney assembling the case of a lifetime. Her closing remarks prove that as improbable as it sounds, the people of this great country we call America really are indivisible; we truly are one. This book is a great gift. Read it.”—Rebecca Walker, author of Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self

“In her courageous portrait of the tumultuous union between her Boston Brahmin mother and her enigmatic black father, Danzy Senna offers a powerfully personal take on the progress of American race relations since the civil rights movement. Where Did You Sleep Last Night? reminds us of the consequences of our origins and our inescapable desire to make sense of them.”—Bliss Broyard, author of One Drop : My Father’s Hidden LifeA Story of Race and Family Secrets

Praise for Danzy Senna

“Senna’s dynamic storytelling illuminates personal revelations that are anything but black and white.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Senna throws everything into her literary stew–ambition, love, obsession, jealousy, and race.” —Elle

Praise for Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

“Senna’s remarkable first novel [will] cling to your memory . . . Senna tells this coming of age tale with impressive beauty and power.” —Newsweek

“[An] absorbing debut novel . . . Senna superbly illustrates the emotional toll that politics and race take.” —New York Times Book Review

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Danzy Senna

  • Danzy Senna is the author of the novels Caucasia and Symptomatic.

  • Danzy Senna © Anne Fishbein
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Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

A Personal History

Danzy Senna

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