Danzy Senna

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Danzy Senna (born 1970) is an American writer. She writes frequently about issues of multiracial and multicultural people. Her first novel, Caucasia (1998), won the Orange Prize for Fiction and other awards.


Early life and education[edit]

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.[1]

Senna earned her B.A. from Stanford University and MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine, where she received several creative writing awards.

Marriage and family[edit]

Senna lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the novelist Percival Everett. They have two children.



Her first novel, Caucasia (1998), received the Book of the Month Club's Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association.[2] 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".[2] 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's story 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 Lee is the daughter of white radical and her father is an African American academic who left her behind. [3]


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, 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 unsure of how she fits into the world around her. She becomes the object of an older woman's attention: both women share the same skin color. As the older woman's interest turns to obsession, the narrator must figure out what their relationship means to her, even as both their lives seem to spiral out of control.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night?[edit]

As a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers,[4] 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. As the two American writers came from wildly divergent backgrounds: her mother a white woman with a blue-blood Bostonian lineage, and her father a black man, the son of a single mother and an unknown father, their marriage was opposed by some family and friends. 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?".[5] The book was the subject of a libel suit brought by her father against her.

You Are Free[edit]

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.[6] 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.[6]




  1. ^ Touger, Rebecca (2009). "Interview: Danzy Senna". Smith Magazine (MagSMITH). Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b PBS Program Club (2003). "Matters of Race: Writer bibliographies". Pbs.org. PBS. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Danzy Senna http://danzysenna.com/Caucasia.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ New York Public Library (2012). "Special Invitation: Danzy Senna in conversation with Rebecca Walker". Nypl.org. New York Public Library. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  5. ^ Matthews, David (6 August 2009). "Sunday Book Review: Searching for Father". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  6. ^ a b 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)

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