One of the year’s best memoirs, The Yellow House finds an epic, fascinating, empathetic history of New Orleans within the life of one woman, her family, and the home they grew up in.
Author Sarah M. Broom traces 100 years in the life of her family, who grew up in the swampy and oft-neglected region of New Orleans East. She tells the story of her mother, Ivory Mae, who bought the shotgun house back in 1961, when the neighborhood was still considered promising; of her 11 siblings as they filtered in and out of that home, and settled into adulthood in the shadow of Hurricane Katrina; and of those who came before them, exploring their earliest ancestry in the city. The book is at once intimate and sprawling, spinning at times dozens of stories in what amounts to a vital reframing of a misrepresented community, and an urgent meditation on the American dream.
In May, Broom joined EW in studio as part of our Hot Summer Debut Authors Roundtable, where she discussed the challenge of telling her family’s story, as well as the need to depict New Orleans in a new and personal light. “The entire act of being the baby child of 12 and telling this story felt like a major transgression,” she said. “It took me a really long time to give myself permission to write the story.” She interviewed her family members as if she were a journalist, transcribing and compiling their responses and insights. “That provided a level of detachment, in a way,” she said. “But even now it’s horrifying.”
Getting to the story she needed to tell wasn’t easy, but Broom found a motto that guided her: “Put myself on the line, even more than I put anyone else on the line.” She continued: “For me, the house began as the idea of belonging to a place that you don’t feel represents you or even belongs to you fully. And so, from the place of the house, the story for me became about New Orleans and the way that New Orleans is mythologized — the way that people feel so deeply that they know it.”
At the time of the roundtable, Broom admitted that her family hadn’t read the book just yet. “Having 12 voices saying, ‘I don’t like this, I don’t like that,’ would drive me insane,” she cracked. “I don’t worry so much about having gotten things wrong, because I’m such a granular, detailed type of writer. It’s their reaction to things.”
The Yellow House publishes Tuesday and is available for pre-order. Watch a clip of Broom on EW’s roundtable above, and be sure to watch the full conversation featuring Linda Holmes, Lisa Taddeo, and more.