When you are the babiest in a family with eleven older points of view, eleven disparate rallying cries, eleven demanding and pay-attention-to-me voices— all variations of the communal story— developing your own becomes a matter of survival. — The Yellow House by Sarah Broom
Sarah Broom’s debut memoir, The Yellow House, explores a larger narrative extending beyond the famous French Quarter and into the once swamplands of New Orleans East. The center of Broom’s novel is a Yellow House, which became home to a blended family of twelve children.
Broom is seemingly redrawing the map her life as she reclaims her past through writing. She retells her story in four parts, which begins with The World Before Me and ends with Investigations. For years Broom quietly drifted through spaces like Texas, New York, Burundi, and back to New Orleans to investigate her past and share the story of the yellow house.
Broom’s writing transports readers to a time before and after the floods that devastated the region. She traces her family roots through interviews with family members that take her back to a time before she was born. The exchanges with relatives and jotting down quick notes as she traveled throughout the city serve as therapy for Broom, who looks for answers about a place that shaped her life.
Some memories of the yellow house are painful, and so Broom’s eldest brother Simon advises against her writing because “by writing this all down here, I will disrupt, unravel, and tear down everything the Broom family has ever built.” When Simon asks again about her project, Broom responds vaguely and says she’s writing about “architecture and belonging and space.” Broom illustrates the power of written confessions as she reclaims her home.
After reading The Yellow House, I began thinking about how contemporary black women writers present their journeys through different spaces. This led me to also think about the survival strategies they use while moving in and out of these spaces. Broom’s approach seems to be rooted in oral tradition because she is creating a narrative about a place developing from stories passed on by word of mouth.
As I research more contemporary black women memoirists, I will document more survival strategies that black women use while moving through different spaces. Broom’s The Yellow House is an expansive work that tells a multigenerational story filled with love, pain, and resistance.
Lakenzie Walls is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.