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The yellow house
2019
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Describes the author’s upbringing in a New Orleans East shotgun house as the unruly 13th child of a widowed mother, tracing a century of family history and the impact of class, race and Hurricane Katrina on her sense of identity. - (Baker & Taylor)

Winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction

A New York Times Bestseller

Named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review

Named one of the “10 Best Books of 2019” by the New York Times Book Review, Seattle Times, Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Tribune, and Slate

Named a Best Book of 2019 by the Washington Post, NPR’s Book Concierge, NPR’s Fresh Air, the Guardian, BookPage, New York Public Library, and Shelf Awareness

Named a Best Memoir of the Decade by LitHub

A brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir from a stunning new talent about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East.

In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant—the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s thirteenth and most unruly child.

A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser-known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.

- (Perseus Publishing)

A brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir from a stunning new talent about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East. - (Perseus Publishing)

Author Biography

Sarah M. Broom is a writer whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Oxford American, and O, The Oprah Magazine among others. A native New Orleanian, she received her Masters in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. She was awarded a Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant in 2016 and was a finalist for the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction in 2011. She has also been awarded fellowships at Djerassi Resident Artists Program and The MacDowell Colony. She lives in New York state. - (Perseus Publishing)

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Booklist Reviews

"Remembering is a chair that is hard to sit still in," muses Broom, a Whiting Foundation grant recipient. Indeed, though centered around the titular family home before and after Hurricane Katrina, Broom's peripatetic narrative reflects the wanderings of all those displaced and disconnected by "the Water." Broom is blunt about the callous incompetence Katrina survivors faced. Although UN policy gives those displaced through natural disaster "the human right to return to their communities," the New Orleans director of recovery management openly mocks returning Black residents as "buffoons." The Federal Road Home program never paid them enough to live in newly gentrified areas. Broom notes of the pre-Katrina community stability, "only a small fraction of New Orleans ever left for elsewhere." Katrina is a community and family tragedy. Broom's siblings are scattered across the country; her Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother, "lost" for a month after a sloppy nursing home evacuation, dies shortly after being recovered, and the damaged family home is condemned. Yet Broom's family is stronger than any house. A moving tribute to family and a powerful indictment of societal indifference. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Home and hurricanes in New Orleans

Reaching far beyond the boundaries of memoir, Sarah M. Broom revisits the world of her childhood, decimated by Katrina, as she searches for the meaning of home and family.


Sarah M. Broom's evocative, addictive memoir, The Yellow House, is more than the story of a girl growing up, or of her sprawling African American family, or even of the eponymous shotgun house where they all lived. It's more than the story of her native New Orleans in the years before and after Katrina. This capacious work captures more than the particulars of a place or a state of mind. It infiltrates the very state of the soul, revealing a way of life tourists never see or, as the destruction of the hurricane and the post-storm neglect would underscore, pay any mind.

The youngest of 12 children born over a span of 30 years in a blended family, Broom begins this story with her clan's circuitous journey to New Orleans East, a once sparsely populated outland that grew in population and promise when, at the height of the Space Race, NASA began building rocket boosters there and other industries followed. Broom's father, Simon, who worked maintenance at NASA, died when she was 6 months old, and her mother, Ivory, was left to fend for herself and the children still living in their yellow shotgun house that Ivory had bought for $3,200 in cash when she was 19.

By the time Broom was born, NASA and much of the industry had all but abandoned the blighted area. Despite chronic financial struggles, Ivory proudly strove to keep up appearances. Indeed, one of the most fascinating features of the narrative is Broom's subtle exploration of class distinctions within the African American communities of New Orleans.

When Katrina hit in 2005, Broom was grown and gone—working at a magazine and living in Harlem—but she has assembled the often-harrowing testimony of her family members who survived the cataclysm. Sacrificed by the powers that be, the largely black neighborhoods in New Orleans East suffered devastation. In the aftermath of Katrina, when the ruins of the Yellow House are deemed in "imminent danger of collapse" and slated for demolition, Broom realizes that the house "contained all of my frustration and many of my aspirations, the hopes that it would shine like it did in the world before me." The house, she comes to see, held more than the memory of her father or the past. It sustained the very concept of home. And she understands that without the physical structure, she and her family are now the house.

The Yellow House is a lyrical attempt to reconstruct home, to redraw a map that nature and a heartless world have erased. The melodies of Broom's prose are insinuating, its rhythms as syncopated and edgy as the story she has dared to write. With a voice all her own, she tells truths rarely told and impossible to ignore.

Copyright 2019 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

Broom reassembles her sizable family tree, damaged by time and uprooted by Hurricane Katrina. As the author suggests in her debut book, her clan's tempest-tossed experience was practically predetermined. She was raised in New Orleans East, an especially swampy section of the city so poor and distant from the city's romantic center that it never appeared on tourist maps. In 1961, when Broom's mother purchased the house of the title, it was hyped as a boomtown "involving men and money and wetlands, dreaming and draining and emergence and fate." But rapid development covered up a multitude of municipal sins that emerged once the rains came. (The title refers in part to the yellow aluminum siding that cloaked rotting wood beneath.) The youngest of 12 siblings and half siblings, Broom knew much of her family only via lore and later research (her father died six months after her birth), which gives this book the feel of a heartfelt but unflinching recovery project. In the early portions, the author describes her family's hard living (her mother was widowed twice) and the re gion's fickle economy and institutional racism. Private school gave Broom a means of escape—she lived in New York working for O, the Oprah Magazine, when Katrina struck—but she returned to reckon with "the psychic cost of defining oneself by the place where you are from." As family members were relocated around the country, she scrambled to locate and assist them, kept tabs on the house, and took a well-intentioned but disillusioning job as a speechwriter for controversial New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, insincerely hyping the city's progress. Broom's lyrical style celebrates her family bonds, but a righteous fury runs throughout the narrative at New Orleans' injustices, from the foundation on up. A tribute to the multitude of stories one small home can contain, even one bursting with loss. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews

Broom recounts the story of her family through the lens of a yellow shotgun house purchased by her mother in 1961 and her own return to New Orleans on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the house. Excerpted in The New Yorker.

Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Library Journal Reviews

This ambitious, haunting memoir of home, movement, displacement, loss, and persistence allows Broom to offer an intimate, closely observed history of her family over nearly a hundred years. At its center is the author's mother, Ivory Mae Broom, who at 19, already a widow and mother of three, purchased the titular house in 1961 in industrial, impoverished New Orleans East, a world away from the French Quarter. Ivory Mae would raise 12 children there, of whom Broom is the youngest. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina rendered the Yellow House uninhabitable, magnified the racial inequities woven into New Orleans, and further scattered the already dispersed Broom family. This scattering included for the author a sojourn in Burundi and a brief stint back in New Orleans as a speechwriter for beleaguered mayor Ray Nagan; neither fulfilling, but both germane to what had become a quest for the essence of relationship and place. Though largely a linear narrative, this debut memoir feels collage-like—impressionistic, cumulative, multisensory—imbued with ambivalence about leaving and wonder at the pull of home. VERDICT Recommended for all who enjoy family history or care to explore beyond the surface of place. [See Prepub Alert, 2/11/19.]—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus

Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Broom presents a great, multigenerational family story in her debut memoir. At its center is Broom's dilapidated childhood home—a source of both division and unity in the family. Broom's mother, Ivory Mae, bought the house, located in New Orleans East, in 1961; the budding area then succumbed to poverty and crime in the late 1980s. Broom connects the house's physical decline to the death in 1980 of her father, Simon, who left many unfinished repair projects. The house had a precarious staircase, electrical problems, and holes that attracted rodents and cockroaches. Broom recalls living in an increasingly unwelcoming environment: "When would the rats come out from underneath the sink?" she wonders. Broom eventually left New Orleans—she attended college in Texas and got a job in New York—but returned after Hurricane Katrina. Through interviews with her brother, Carl, she vividly relays Katrina's impact on families. Broom is an engaging guide; she has some of David Simon's effortless reporting style, and her meditations on eroding places recall Jeannette Walls. The house didn't survive Katrina, but its destruction strengthened Broom's appreciation of home. Broom's memoir serves as a touching tribute to family and a unique exploration of the American experience. (Aug.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Table of Contents

Map
1(12)
MOVEMENT I The World Before Men
I Amelia "Lolo"
13(8)
II Joseph, Elaine, and Ivory
21(15)
III Webb
36(9)
IV Simon Broom
45(7)
V Short End, Long Street
52(17)
VI Betsy
69(7)
VII The Crown
76(25)
MOVEMENT II The Grieving House
I Hiding Places
101(3)
II Origins
104(7)
III The Grieving House
111(6)
IV Map of My World
117(14)
V Four Eyes
131(5)
VI Elsewheres
136(10)
VII Interiors
146(21)
VIII Tongues
167(8)
IX Distances
175(10)
X 1999
185(10)
MOVEMENT III Water
I Run
195(3)
II Survive
198(11)
III Settle
209(7)
IV Bury
216(7)
V Trace
223(5)
VI Erase
228(5)
VII Forget
233(27)
VIII Perdido
260(27)
MOVEMENT IV Do You Know What It Means? Investigations
I Sojourner
287(7)
II Saint Rose
294(4)
III Saint Peter
298(14)
IV McCoy
312(7)
V Photo Op
319(11)
VI Investigations
330(6)
VII Phantoms
336(17)
VIII Dark Night, Wilson
353(8)
IX Cutting Grass
361(8)
After 369(4)
Acknowledgments 373(4)
Photographs 377

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