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Danzy Senna's racial history -- is it just personal?

June 26, 2009 |  9:23 am

Danzysennabook In the pages of the L.A. Times, Erin Aubry Kaplan reviews "Where Did You Sleep Last Night? A Personal History" by Danzy Senna.

Senna is the daughter of Carl Senna and Fanny Howe, two gifted writers whose marriage in 1968 shone with a defiant but hopeful symbolism of the age. He was black, she was white; he was an upstart, a figure who emerged from a new, intellectually empowered black class; she came from a prominent Boston family whose roots went back to the Mayflower (and, as it happens, to wealthy slave-traders)....

In the introduction to her new memoir, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?," Senna bluntly addresses the question in describing how she felt watching her father devolve over the years from a proud symbol of racial accomplishment into something painfully ordinary: a loser who drank, got fired from his job and once beat her mother in public. "Gone was the 'negro of exceptional promise,' " Senna writes with almost palpable disappointment and some embarrassment, "and in its stead he lived up to all the stereotypes that his fellow Americans had ever secretly or not-so-secretly harbored about black men."

Senna's parents divorced in 1976. In this book, she takes on the task of unearthing her father's history -- with his help -- and finds it's a more complicated story than she'd expected. Read the complete review here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg