Season Three of the podcast Created Equal explores “Writers on Race: From Ralph Ellison to Colson Whitehead,” and features some of the most important voices in literature as well as the national conversation on racial inequities.
The conversations were conducted on the radio program, Detroit Today, in the WDET studios on Wayne State University’s campus throughout the pandemic and civil unrest of 2020. Each episode consists of a conversation between Henderson and one writer exploring the role of their work in the conversation about race in America.
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Episode 4 Guest: Sarah M. Broom
Sarah M. Broom is the author of “The Yellow House”, the 2019 National Book Award Winner and New York Times Best Seller.
Her memoir chronicles the life lived in her family home in New Orleans East, a neighborhood often overlooked and forgotten. Broom’s work examines the importance of home, place and community through an emotional portrait of her own hometown.
Why Broom chose to wrote a memoir that examined the history of her family before she was even born:
“I wrestled a lot with this. The sort of central question I was asking myself was ‘How do I appear in this story that I’m writing, in context? How do I put the world I knew and most-understood in context?’ That choice to not appear until about a hundred pages in the story, came a bit later because I felt that I needed to establish this world first. And I wanted to talk about what it actually meant when I was born. I wanted to talk about all the things I inherited, all the generational ideas and the generational traumas and the interest that existed within this matriarchal family to which I belong. So it’s really unusual; it gave the book a layering and nuance that really matters to me.”
The significance and influence of “forgotten places”:
“It is a sensibility that gives you a very specific point of view, I would say… You’re talking about Ellison and ‘Invisible Man’ and (my question is) ‘Invisible to whom?’ Because the thing I know is that these people are incredible humans who I grew up with on the short end of a long street in New Orleans East. This act of not being on official maps repeatedly is tricky because it’s not just about wanting to belong by being on the map. It’s not simply about recognition, though that’s important. It’s about resources and zoning and planning and how communities fall out of a city’s consciousness. So I think my world will always be framed by this part of New Orleans East, where I came from, because it also gave me a kind of perspective because to be outside is also to be able to see from a distance and that’s quite crucial when you’re trying to be a thinking person in the world.”
On the experience of loss and displacement in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
“The house — I didn’t quite understand what it meant for me. I didn’t understand how the house contained, for instance, so much of my father’s traces. My father died when I was a baby and he helped build this house, and so a lot of how I understood my father was through this house. So the loss was quite monumental because it was also a house that my mother bought when she was 19-years-old and built this incredible world inside of it. It made me think so much about what happens when the signposts of your life, of your growing up life, the things that you very best know, don’t exist anymore. How do you find your footing?”