Danzy Senna is an American fiction novelist who frequently writes about the issues and struggles of multiracial and multicultural people. Her first work, Caucasia (1998), has been translated into eight languages and won her multiple awards. Senna also won a Whiting Award. She has published two novels, a memoir, and a short-story collection.
Early life and education
Danzy Senna was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the middle of three children. Her mother, Fanny Howe, is an Irish-American poet and novelist. Her father, Carl Senna, is an Afro-Mexican American scholar, author of The Black Press and the Struggle for Civil Rights and The Fallacy of I.Q.
Senna attended college in the 1980s and 1990s and earned her B.A. from Stanford University. She also earned an MFA in creative writing from University of California, Irvine. She wrote her first novel, Caucasia, after moving from New York to Orange County, Southern California. Living in Orange County aided Senna in creating the main character of Caucasia, Birdie Lee, and her story, a character and a situation very similar to Danzy Senna and her own experiences.
Before Senna decided to leave New York to pursue a writing career in California, she worked for Newsweek as a low-level journalist.
Her first novel, Caucasia (1998), received the Book of the Month Club's Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and won the Alex Award from the American Library Association. The novel was also a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was named a Los Angeles Times "Best Book of the Year". Caucasia, first published in England as From Caucasia with Love, has been translated into eight languages. Caucasia is a book narrated by a biracial child named Birdie Lee. The story follows Birdie Lee and her sister, Cole, through the tough times of the busing and integration crisis in Boston. The story can be classified as a coming of age tale, wherein Birdie struggles to find herself while being the daughter of white radical mother and an African American academic father who left her behind.
Her second novel, Symptomatic (2004), is a psychological thriller narrated by a biracial young woman who is often accepted as white. The story centers on a college graduate who recently moved to New York City for what promises to be a dream job – a prestigious fellowship writing for a respected magazine. She feels displaced, however, and is unsure of how she fits into the world around her. She becomes the object of an older woman's attention who is racially like her. As the older woman's interest turns into obsession, the narrator must figure out what their relationship means to her, even as both of their lives seem to spiral out of control.
Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
As a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, Senna wrote an autobiographical work, the memoir Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History (2009). She recounts the story of her parents, who married in 1968. Their marriage was opposed by some family members and friends as the two American writers came from wildly divergent backgrounds. Her mother was a white woman with a blue-blood Bostonian lineage. Her father was a black man, the son of a single mother and an unknown father. When their marriage disintegrated eight years later, one family friend called it “the ugliest divorce in Boston’s history.” Decades later, Senna looked back not only at her parents’ divorce, but at the histories they tried so hard to overcome. Her often painful journey through the past is epitomized by the question posed to her as a young child by her father: "Don’t you know who I am?". The book was the subject of a libel suit brought by her father against her.
You Are Free
Her short story collection, titled You Are Free (2011), contains eight stories, all of which draw upon Senna's familiar focus on black–white relations. She also contrasts motherhood and non-motherhood. In the title story, a woman’s strange correspondence with a girl claiming to be her daughter leads her into the doubts and what-ifs of the life she hasn’t lived. In another story, "The Care of the Self," a new mother hosts an old friend, still single, and discovers how each of them pities and envies the other. In "Admission," tensions arise between a black couple after their son is admitted into the elite daycare school to which they’d applied only as a joke. You Are Free includes the following eight stories:
- The Land of Beulah
- Replacement Theory
- There, There
- The Care of the Self
- You Are Free
- What's the Matter with Helga and Dave?
- 2004: Fellow, New York Public Library's Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers
- 2002: Whiting Award
- Book of the Month Award for First Fiction (Caucasia)
- American Library Association's Alex Award (Caucasia)
- Finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (Caucasia)
- Listed as a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year (Caucasia)
- You Are Free (Stories), 2011. Riverhead Books: New York. ISBN 9781594485077.
- Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History, 2009. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York. ISBN 9780374289157.
- Symptomatic: A Novel, 2003. Riverhead Books: New York. ISBN 1573222755.
- Caucasia, 1998. Riverhead Books: New York. ISBN 1573220914.
Marriage and Family
- Touger, Rebecca (2009). "Interview: Danzy Senna". Smith Magazine (MagSMITH). Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- Milian Arias, Claudia M. (Spring 2002). "An Interview With Danzy Senna". Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- PBS Program Club (2003). "Matters of Race: Writer bibliographies". Pbs.org. PBS. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- "Danzy Senna - Caucasia". danzysenna.com. Retrieved 2015-08-11.
- New York Public Library (2012). "Special Invitation: Danzy Senna in conversation with Rebecca Walker". Nypl.org. New York Public Library. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- Matthews, David (6 August 2009). "Sunday Book Review: Searching for Father". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- Smith, Zadie (September 2011). "New Books: You Are Free". Harper's (Harper's Foundation) 323 (1,936): 73–76. Retrieved 31 May 2012.(subscription required)
- Senna, Danzy (2011-05-03). You Are Free: Stories (1 ed.). New York, NY: Riverhead Books. ISBN 9781594485077.
- "Danzy Senna". danzysenna.com. Retrieved 2015-08-10.
- "Danzy Senna". danzysenna.com. Retrieved 2015-08-06.
- Danzysenna.com, official website