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Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  339 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 208 pages
Published March 30th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2009)
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I'm not sure what I think of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" as a book. I'm not even sure it is a book. It's more of a loosely woven tapestry of thoughts, recollections, feelings, musings and theories. Which is fine by me because this is a truly disturbing, interesting, beautiful, ugly American family saga. The likes of which is written about more often than it is examined. Senna does a good job of showing the futility of applying sociological analysis to real-life situations. When I went to s ...more
Jun 16, 2009 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this in one gulp this weekend after hearing DS read from it at the Mixed Roots Literary & Film Festival in LA. She was hilariously funny and the writing is SO GOOD. I love stories about secrets, uncovering hidden pasts, etc so this was right up my alley.

Interesting to read an article when I returned about her father and sister suing her for what she wrote. It doesn't change my opinion of the book but it did make me think, about the repercussions of memoir writing, etc.
Jul 07, 2011 Morrigan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-read
Danzy Senna's books, "Where did you sleep last night? A personal Memoir" has a beautifully woven, beautifully written and deeply emotional prose. I found the writing style entrancing, albeit choppy and all over the place. I felt as if she subjectively trying to look from the outside in. She was trying to put all the pieces of her history together, which shows through the lack of cohesiveness in the narrative. In this book, Senna tries to find, regroup and recount her search for her family's root ...more
Gwendalyn McHugh
Jun 28, 2009 Gwendalyn McHugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I picked up & put this book back on the shelf 3 times before I checked it out from the library - and I'm glad I finally decided to go with it. Most likely because it has a Boston connection & I loved living there.

It's a quick read (less than a day) but there's a quote somewhere about all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way (Tolstoy, maybe?) and this book gives me inside into the own dysfunction I grew up with.

I find it interesting to see how others process their experi
Oct 05, 2009 Joy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting memoir detailing the marriage of Denzy's white Bostonian
blue-blood mother and half-black Southern father in 1968. They were two
brilliant writers from wildly divergent backgrounds. The marriage only
lasted eight years, but produced three children. The book is "a potent
statement of personal identity, a challenging look at the murky waters of American ancestry, and an exploration of narratives - the ones we
create and the ones we forget." It's really a look at a period of
American history
i may be a touch biased due to the fact that i am a big fan of danzy senna's fiction. donning my most objective hat for a moment, i will say that her fiction is better than this memoir/family history. but i still think this was a good book & i'm pleased to have read it.

danzy senna is mixed race, the product of an idealistic 1968 marriage between two writers--a white writer mother, daughter of the boston brahmin (the dewolfe/howe line, inter-married with the quincys & all the rest), &
Thomas DeWolf
Dec 16, 2011 Thomas DeWolf rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
In one sense, reading memoirs is a bit like peaking through the curtains into someone's home under a shroud of darkness. In another sense, memoirs offer insight into how others deal with challenges that everyone invariably experiences in one way or another within our own families. This deeply personal story is the author's attempt to come to terms with her own history, which is, by extension, deeply connected to American history. The issue of "race" is complexly woven into the fabric of both.

Jul 22, 2009 Helen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Senna’s narrative is very much in the vein of Walls’ The Glass Castle or Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin. It surpasses both for its examination, not only of Senna’s parents relationship, but for its exploration of identity today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Carl Senna is a black man born in the south when Jim Crow was alive and well. Fanny Howe, on the other hand, was born of eminent Bostonians whose histories are traceable back to the Mayflower. Of her parents’ divorce Senna says “The divorce was s
I am often a person who chooses books by their covers/titles. I am not ashamed of this as it leads me to read things that I might not otherwise read (like a memoir about a girl coming to terms with her biracial parents...which didn't sound interesting per se but had the same title as a song I once loved). Judging a book by its cover seems to be a-ok as long as it is broadening horizons instead of limiting them. With that in mind, I really wasn't sure where this book was going to take me.

While i
Mar 17, 2010 Liza rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Caitlin: Don't read this review!!

I've found myself in a place where I just enjoy non fiction so much and it's quite a nice place. Also, it was nice to finally finish another book. Such a slow year for me so far.

This was not the best memoir I've read, but it was good. I'd give it 3 1/2 stars if I had that option. I've had the itch to explore my family tree for quite some time, and this book encouraged that itch to get, well, itchier. My family history is probably not as complicated as Danzy's so
Aug 12, 2009 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very compulsively readable, even if you don't know the people involved (or so I suspect). There's a detective story element to the book that is engrossing as Senna looks into her father's familial history. The way racial issues mark our culture is foregrounded here, as Senna examines growing up in a biracial family. I'm not sure, however, that she ever achieves necessary distance. She identifies as a person of color, but also identifies primarily with her white mother, and the interior conflicts ...more
Jul 24, 2011 Louie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great story of discovery of the author's paternal roots with her father in tow through the poor sections of South.

It struck me very personally as I'm in a similar quandary: much is known (even cherished) about my Mother's side of the family but I know very little of my Father's family history.

As Ms. Senna digs deeper and deeper, she uncovers a startlingly different history of what her family really knows about her father, his relatives and her father's and his parent's hidden past "re-written
Aug 07, 2014 Sandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book to better understand what it feels like to be biracial. Imagine my surprise at how deeply I identified with the amazing story. BTW, I'm NOT biracial! Danzy Senna's story in many ways is my story. The key it seems is identity. Wonderfully written poignant and deepyly relevant book.
Jan 17, 2011 Lucien rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Danzy Senna is being touted as the belles lettres of the mulatto nation. She is currently being sued for libel by her father for the lies and the defamation within this book. It is a hatchet job against a man who suffered his entire life. Her mother's background and life except for her white privelege is a mystery. She lumps all her family members into groups. It is an infantile character assassination and I do not understand its appeal at all except to people who are obsessed with the United St ...more
It seems like every book I pick up has an identity story related to a murky past, usually something about adoption. Senna's maternal line is Boston Brahmin, her paternal is southern legacy Black, the culture with whom she identifies. While her mother's family is well documented, she chronicles in this memoir her search for information about her paternal history, taking us into the shadowy land of vague, hidden relationships in her father's past and revealing the conflicting forces in her own. An ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Suedognut rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Danzy relates her search to find and understand her roots. Parts of this read more like a detective novel than non-fiction. The book was well written and really kept me interested. I read it in 2 days.
Nijla Mumin
Feb 05, 2010 Nijla Mumin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This memoir succeeds because of all of the rich details that Senna provides about her terse relationship with her father, and her family. She weaves these details in and out of her search of her familial history, and as a result, I was wholly involved in the narrative. I wanted to find the answers just as she did. I agree with other reviewers that there is a "detective" type element to the work. By the end, I also wanted to embark on a similar journey to uncover the unsaid and hidden parts of my ...more
Sherry Lee
I have read Danzy Senna's novels and liked them, felt the emotion of them, but her memoir lacks just that, emotion. From the beginning we know the author wants to learn more about her father's identity to know more about the man/her father. Unfortunately, I thought the exhaustive genealogical search overpowered the author's ability to make sense of her relationship with her father (although it did have me question why I haven't yet had the necessity to dig farther into the "roots" of my parents' ...more
Mar 16, 2009 Meghan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Meghan by: for Elle magazine
Shelves: memoir, for-review, arc
Danzy Senna’s family tree looks like a giant oak cleaved by lightning. On her maternal side, grand, majestic branches of New England success and roots deep into the history of America. Her paternal side, merely a small limb and the hints of few branches. What makes Senna’s memoir so moving is not the failed promise of her parents’ mixed race marriage in 1968 of Boston blue blood and “a Negro of exceptional promise” but that her story is all too true of many children of mixed race. That the perso ...more
Apr 13, 2010 Gene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Danzy Senna's got a WOW family history. She knows a lot about what makes her interesting, but it's the missing information that sends her down South to track her black father's heritage. On the white side of Danzy's family: money, clout, literary acumen and long-time priviledge. On the black side: apparently not a lot until Danzy digs among the "almost" family her father depended on as an abandoned child. Families so interest me and it's not often I find one that draws me in like Danzy's. (Swall ...more
Jun 02, 2015 Theresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading this book. It's well worth the time as it is an heartfelt brutally honest account of a daughter being raised unprotected and left to fend for herself. Poverty is a scar that heals. But not poverty combined with absent parenting.
Lisa Voisen
Jul 31, 2012 Lisa Voisen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an outstanding book of the author's memoirs of her childhood, dealing with an abusive father, race issues and trying to establish who and what she is and was. Is is a powerful book discussing the events of a troubled childhood, tracing back her past through her father's black side, which was filled with lies and deceptions, but at last she arrives at the truth. I was left with wondering as how do we define ourselves? Are we a race or several races, are we a product of our environment, or ...more
Feb 14, 2012 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An easy read. The narrative though semi-disjointed flowed in a memory/dream-like form. The author attempts to understand her parents union and in particular her father by reviewing the past. She attempts to understand what circumstances created her father and how timing shaped her creation. The writer also uses the book as a means of understanding her father and her frayed relationship to him.

She also uses this book to express her feelings on race and how her father assisted in shaping those vie
Nov 10, 2009 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Senna begins her memoir reflecting on her difficult childhood being raised by a single mother and her visits with her elusive, irresponsible father.

The focus and more engaging portion of Senna's story began for me when she embarks on an intriguing journey to unravel the mystery into her African-American father's heritage and discovers his extended family in the South. She also discusses her mother's Caucasian blue-blood lineage, but I found her father’s--what some might describe as ordinary--bac
May 05, 2009 Andrea rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biracial-issues
The author's parents, both writers, but her mother a white woman from Boston and her father an African American man originally from the south, married in 1968. The marriage dissolved as the author's father became abusive and alcoholic. Senna's mother's family, Boston bluebloods, have a well-publicized history, but her father's history, and the roots of his frustration, are a mystery to her until she explores them as an adult. The book is touching and well-written, but it seemed to me the author ...more
Aug 15, 2009 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not quite finished with this yet, but it's one of those nonfiction books you can't put down. Danzy Senna, the author of Caucasia and another novel, goes on a quest to find out more about her father's history. He practically has none--a mysterious father that no one ever met.

Her parents are a mother from a very blueblood Boston family and her father, a brilliant black man who knows almost nothing about his family or background. He has been a deeply disappointing father, alcoholic and unstable
Oct 10, 2009 Birgit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was introduced to this wellwritten memoir at the "Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival" that takes place each year in Los Angeles; Danzy shows in her memoir that being mixed is not only ablut race; that is the obvious part of the challenges that face not only the mixed couple, but in an even higher degree affects children in the union.
Even stronger are the influences of different cultural backgrounds, such as Boston versus Jim Crow's South. With great courage Danzy opens the door for he rea
Apr 24, 2011 Renee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book manages to be both a wistful and bitter-toned memoir relating to the author's search for answers about her family's complicated background and racial heritage. Senna was curious about her black father's family history (her mother descended from Boston Brahmins). Senna travels South to trace her father's roots, particularly the mystery of his paternity; along the way she meets potential relatives, searches through records and photos and soaks in the atmosphere he knew as a child.
I list
May 16, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was an amazing book--the author's story is compelling, and so is the story of her parents, a mixed-race couple of literary luminaries whose reasons for coming together are ambiguous even to themselves. Senna's exploration of her own ancestry opens up a new avenue for a relationship with her troubled father, and it's poignant to follow their story as it parallels her research. The first book I'd read by this author was Caucasia, which I liked, but I was much more drawn into this on ...more
Jan 16, 2016 V rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating story. Loved the writer's style.
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Danzy Senna is an American novelist, born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970. Her parents, Carl Senna, an Afro-Mexican poet and author, and Fanny Howe, who is Irish-American writer, were also civil rights activists.

She attended Stanford University and received an MFA from the University of California at Irvine. There, she received several creative writing awards.

Her debut novel, Caucasia
More about Danzy Senna...

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