The winners of the National Book awards for 2019 were announced on November 20 at a ceremony in New York City at Cipriani Wall Street restaurant. Today’s post discusses the winning non-fiction entry The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom.
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.
If Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House was simply an indictment of state sanctioned terror on the Gulf Coast, it would be a stunning literary achievement. Broom however shows us that such an account without breathtaking rendering of family and environment is, at best, brittle. The Yellow House uses reportage, oral history, and astute political analysis to seep into the generational crevices, while reveling and revealing the choppy inheritances rooted in one family in the neighborhood of New Orleans East.
Other non-fiction finalists this year were:
--What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché
--The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
--Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George
--Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
About the Author
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.
…Broom's extraordinary, engrossing debut…pushes past the baseline expectations of memoir as a genre to create an entertaining and inventive amalgamation of literary forms. Part oral history, part urban history, part celebration of a bygone way of life, The Yellow House is a full indictment of the greed, discrimination, indifference and poor city planning that led her family's home to be wiped off the map. It is an instantly essential text, examining the past, present and possible future of the city of New Orleans, and of America writ large…The Yellow House is a book that triumphs much as a jazz parade does: by coming loose when necessary, its parts sashaying independently down the street, but righting itself just in the nick of time, and teaching you a new way of enjoying it in the process.
The New York Times Book Review - Angela Flournoy
How many titles are submitted for the National Book Award?
In 2018, 1,637 titles were submitted for consideration for the National Book Award. Of these titles, 368 were for Fiction, 546 were for Nonfiction, 246 were for Poetry, 142 were for Translated Literature, and 325 were for Young People’s Literature.