Beige Bubble Bodies: New People by Danzy Senna

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2017-11-12 04:12Z by Steven

Beige Bubble Bodies: New People by Danzy Senna

The Miami Rail
2017-10-31

Claudia Milian, Associate Professor of Spanish & Latin American Studies
Duke University

New People by Danzy Senna, Riverhead Books, 240 pp.

Danzy Senna’s New People unfolds the creases of Maria and her fiancé, Khalil’s flat lives––exposing sharp, furrowed, details of their beige being in a pre-tech gentrifying Brooklyn bubble. Their barely colored bodies, their contrasts between white and brownish, are a prototype, a palette that is substituted, again and again, by the mélange of nationalities and shades that fill in the indistinct Northeastern landscape.

The neutrally named and orphan Maria, a border girl, as it were, whose nebulousness crosses, re-crosses, and double-crosses racial and cultural spectrums and expectations, steers toward the excessive closeness, to an infinite jest, of mixed race America and its vague embodiments. Senna is, on the face of it, in exclusive conversation with black-and-white America. But the novel’s other deviations of grayness and brownness provoke, drift, and pump up the volume on Maria’s out of body experiences as she walks in and out of Latina states…

Read the entire review here.

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Talking the Talk: Linguistic Passing in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-09-06 02:41Z by Steven

Talking the Talk: Linguistic Passing in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S.
Volume 42, Number 2, Summer 2017
pages 156-176

Melissa Dennihy, Assistant Professor of English
Queensborough Community College, City University of New York, Bayside, New York

Danzy Senna’s 1998 novel Caucasia, set in 1970s New England, follows the breakup of the mixed-race Lee family: African American father Deck, white mother Sandy, and biracial daughters Cole and Birdie. When Deck and Sandy separate following the latter’s involvement in a risky political plot, darker-skinned sister Cole moves with Deck to Brazil, while protagonist Birdie goes undercover with Sandy, passing as white to help her mother dodge the FBI. Birdie’s passing has led critics to categorize Caucasia as a contemporary passing novel, situated within a long tradition of US passing literature established by works such as James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929).1 However, white is not the only passing identity assumed by Caucasia’s protagonist, and the multiple forms of passing Birdie and other characters undertake throughout the novel suggest that racial identity—how one constructs one’s race and how one’s race is constructed by others—continuously shifts by context. Passing is not portrayed as a permanent crossing of the color line in this text but as an ongoing series of acts involving regular adjustments in one’s performance of racial identity. Characters pass not just for white but for multiple racial and ethnic identities, including different versions of Blackness and whiteness.

In this sense, Senna’s novel challenges views of passing as an act in which one gives up who one “really” is to “become” white. Instead, Caucasia portrays passing as a tool used when one has a specific goal or outcome in mind: passing for white is not a permanent adoption of whiteness but a performance of it, used to access privileges, opportunities, or advantages. This is an important point since, long after we have acknowledged that race is not biological but socially constructed, some recent scholarship continues to portray passing as a masking of one’s “true” self or race. Valerie Rohy writes, for example, that “the term passing designates a performance in which one presents oneself as what one is not” (219).2 The phrase “what one is not” suggests an originary self, whereas I use the term passing not to imply an authentic self hidden under a false identity but to suggest that racial identity is multifaceted and varied, involving continual reconstructions of the self in different contexts. To read Caucasia’s Birdie as a black girl who fakes it while passing as white overlooks the fact that Birdie must learn to pass for black as well as white; neither racial performance comes naturally to her. Learning to perform both whiteness and Blackness helps Birdie recognize the possibility of passing for both—and other—racial/ethnic identities: passing is not a singular transition from black to white but a series of multidirectional, continual crossings into and out of different racial identities as circumstances allow or require.

However, what is most notable about Senna’s passing story is not its multiple acts of passing in different directions but that they do not always depend solely or even primarily on physical appearance. Set in a post-civil rights United States no longer structured by the color line of the Jim Crow era, Senna’s novel presents racial identity as constructed through more than just the physical realm: the text’s protagonist learns to claim both Blackness and whiteness by modifying not only her appearance but also her use of language. The linguistic is a critical factor in facilitating successful passing in Caucasia, calling attention away from physical attributes in determining who can claim a certain racial identity. The novel’s portrayal of what I call linguistic passing—situationally altering one’s way of speaking, in addition to or instead of altering appearance, to pass as a member of or gain insider status within a particular racial group—broadens traditional understandings of passing by shifting emphasis from the physical and visual to the linguistic and audible. If one can talk the talk convincingly enough, Caucasia suggests, one can gain access to groups or opportunities one might otherwise be excluded from or…

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Danzy Senna: New People

Posted in Audio, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-26 22:50Z by Steven

Danzy Senna: New People

Bookworm
KCRW FM
Santa Monica, California
2017-08-24


Photo by Christopher Ho

Danzy Senna relishes kicking political correctness to the curb. She believes that irony and humor are more effective than earnestness when writing about race and gender. In her novel New People, Senna takes on both the comedy and seriousness of race. Her mixed-race trickster heroine plays what she thinks is a funny prank on her mixed-race boyfriend – a racist prank that mushrooms into a full-scale drama on their 90s Stanford University campus… and that is just the beginning.

Listen to the entire episode (00:28:29) here.

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Danzy Senna’s New People Explores Race, Love, and Gentrification

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-10 00:47Z by Steven

Danzy Senna’s New People Explores Race, Love, and Gentrification

Elle
2017-08-03

Lisa Shea

The Caucasia author returns to her home ground: the personal and political dynamics of race.

In her latest novel, New People (Riverhead), Danzy Senna bores into the dynamics of race, identity, heritage, poverty, and privilege in contemporary America, exposing the pride and promises of change therein, as well as the pitfalls and pathologies. Agile and ambitious, the novel is also a wild-hearted romance about secrets and obsessions, a dramedy of manners about the educated black middle-class—the “talented tenth”—that is Senna’s authorial home ground. One critic, in reviewing Senna’s 2009 memoir, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, about her writer parents’ marriage and divorce, and her father’s disappearance from her life, called her trenchant observations on America’s fixation with race “nod-inducingly brilliant.”

The female protagonist of New People, Maria, shares some of Senna’s biographical outlines: Maria refers to herself as a “quadroon” adopted and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a single mom, Gloria, who struggled for years but never was able to complete her dissertation at Harvard. Maria meets Khalil—who “grew up in a liberal, humanist, multiracial family, oblivious to his own blackness,” when they are students at Stanford—after he’d broken up with his white girlfriend. “Maria liked to joke that she was his transitional object,” Senna writes. “He was morphing into a race man before her very eyes.”

Now it is 1996, and they’re engaged and living together in a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. “Interspersed among the old guard—the Jamaican ladies with their folding chairs, the churchy men in their brown polyester suits—are the ones who have just arrived. It is subtle, this shift, almost imperceptible. When Maria blurs her eyes right it doesn’t appear to be happening. They dance together at house parties in the dark. If I ruled the world they sing, their voices rising as one, Imagine that. I’d free all my sons.“…

Read the entire review here.

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Danzy Senna’s New Black Woman

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-09 14:41Z by Steven

Danzy Senna’s New Black Woman

The New Yorker
2017-08-07

Doreen St. Félix


In Danzy Senna’s latest novel, “New People,” the ugliness of segregation has given way to a class of upwardly mobile light-skinned black people.
Agence Opale / Alamy Stock Photo

In an essay published in 2006, the novelist Paul Beatty recalled the first book he’d ever read by a black author. When the Los Angeles Unified School Board—“out of the graciousness of its repressive little heart”—sent him a copy of Maya Angelou’sI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” he made it through a few “maudlin” pages before he grew suspicious, he wrote. “I knew why they put a mirror in the parakeet’s cage: so he could wallow in his own misery.” Observing that the “defining characteristic of the African-American writer is sobriety,” Beatty described his own path toward a black literary insobriety, one that would lead to the satirical style of his novels “White Boy Shuffle” and “The Sellout.” Along the way, he discovered a select canon of literary black satire, including Zora Neale Hurston’s freewheeling story “The Book of Harlem” and Cecil Brown’sThe Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger.”

Danzy Senna, Beatty’s friend and fellow novelist, makes an appearance in that essay, smiling “wistfully” as she shows him “the cover of Fran Ross’s hilarious 1974 novel, ‘Oreo.’” As Senna later wrote in the foreword to the novel’s reissue, “Oreo,” about a biracial girl searching for her itinerant white father, manages to probe “the idea of falling from racial grace” while avoiding “mulatto sentimentalism.” Since her 1998 début novel, “Caucasia,” a stark story about two biracial sisters, Senna, like Ross before her, has developed her own kind of insobriety, one focussed on comically eviscerating the archetype of the “tragic mulatto”—that nineteenth-century invention who experiences an emotional anguish rooted in her warring, mixed bloods. Both beautiful and wretched, the mulatto was intended to arouse sympathy in white readers, who had magnificent difficulty relating to black people in literature (to say nothing of life). Senna, the daughter of the white Boston poet Fanny Howe and the black editor Carl Senna, grew up a member of the nineties Fort Greene “dreadlocked élite”; her light-skinned black characters, who dodge the constraints of post-segregation America, provide an excuse for incisive social satire. Thrillingly, blackness is not hallowed in Senna’s work, nor is it impervious to pathologies of ego. Senna particularly enjoys lampooning the search for racial authenticity. Her characters, and the clannish worlds they are often trying to escape, teeter on the brink of ruin and absurdity.

Senna’s latest novel, the slick and highly enjoyable “New People,” makes keen, icy farce of the affectations of the Brooklyn black faux-bohemia in which Maria, a distracted graduate student, lives with her fiancé among the new “Niggerati.” Maria and Khalil Mirsky—the latter’s name a droll amalgamation of his black and white Jewish parentage—are the “same shade of beige.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Danzy Senna Doesn’t Mind If Her New Novel Makes You Uncomfortable

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2017-08-07 02:41Z by Steven

Danzy Senna Doesn’t Mind If Her New Novel Makes You Uncomfortable

Vogue
2017-08-03

Julia Felsenthal, Senior Culture Writer

“I feel my role as a writer is to complicate, to leave more questions, to destabilize whatever seems set in stone,” says novelist Danzy Senna. “There’s been this whole conversation about trigger warnings. My half-joking thing is: I really want to trigger people. I want to read work that’s going to trigger me. I’m very committed to writing things that move people to a more uncomfortable place.”

Uncomfortable—and I mean this in the best way possible—is a pretty good descriptor of Senna’s latest novel, New People. The year is 1996. The place is Brooklyn. Our protagonist is Maria, a Columbia University doctoral student struggling to finish her dissertation on modes of resistance in the hymns and songs recorded by the Peoples Temple, the religious cult led by Jim Jones (and ultimately wiped out in 1978, when its leader ordered nearly 1,000 of those who had followed him to the Guyanese settlement of Jonestown to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid).

Maria is biracial, adopted at birth by a single black mother, a graduate student who brought her daughter up on a steady diet of Audre Lorde and Roots, and bemoaned that the light skin and straight hair with which Maria was born never darkened or kinked. (The baby was a “one-dropper,” writes Senna, “that peculiarly American creation, white in all outside appearances but black for generations to come.”) Now Maria is engaged to her college boyfriend, Khalil, whose skin is her exact same “shade of beige,” but who was raised by globe-trotting mixed parents in upper-middle-class bourgeois bohemian splendor, brought up to think of himself as a citizen of the world. Khalil is launching a company, Brooklyn Renaissance, a sort of proto-Facebook for “like-minded souls,” and happily planning his life with Maria: their Martha’s Vineyard wedding; the Brooklyn brownstone they’ll eventually buy and fill with artwork by Lorna Simpson, with children named Indigo and Cheo, with a dog named Thurgood…

Read the entire review here.

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The Ineradicable Color-Line: Danzy Senna’s “New People”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-05 21:41Z by Steven

The Ineradicable Color-Line: Danzy Senna’s “New People”

Los Angeles Review of Books
2017-08-01

Gabrielle Bellot

Danzy Senna, New People, A Novel (New York: Riverhead, 2017)

IN LONDON IN JULY, at the dawn of a new century, W. E. B. Du Bois spoke in front the Pan-African Conference about the challenges of the era to come. “[T]he problem of the Twentieth Century,” he said, in a statement that would later appear in and come to define his epochal collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, “is the problem of the color-line.” The idea of describing American antiblack racial segregation by the simple, if not even deceptively charming, term color-line, had appeared two decades earlier in the title of Frederick Douglass’s 1881 essay, “The Color Line,” but it would come to be associated particularly with The Souls of Black Folk. So seductive was the phrase for Du Bois that he used it two more times to bookend an essay in the book, “Of the Dawn of Freedom,” but it was, of course, more than a memorable line. The color-line was as explicit as it was psychic, delineated in signs, denials, and public executions as much as it was in one’s choice of path, one’s footfalls, one’s bones and dreams. Racism is merely obvious when it becomes visible; its potential existence follows us, invisibly and phantasmally, when we’ve come to expect it…

New People is a paean to the psychosocial complexities of being racially mixed, and, as a result, color-lines, passing, and double-consciousness are everywhere. The book follows Maria, who is on the cusp of marriage to her college love, Khalil. Obsessive and unreliable herself, she is doing her dissertation on Jonestown, a notorious historical example of fanaticism and deception. It is 1996 in Brooklyn, though much of it still feels atmospherically like 2017, only without social media. In her past, “Maria could honestly say she hated white people”; her mother, Gloria, astutely notes that Maria possesses “that particular rage of the light-skinned individual.” Khalil is Jewish and black with light skin; the first time Maria sees him, he looks “both entirely black and entirely white.” Like Maria, but with less self-torment, Khalil learns to embrace his mixed-race status shortly after beginning to date Maria. However, Maria does not feel any fire in her when she is with Khalil. (So cold is their romantic relationship, at least to her, that she wonders as she kisses him if she is really more attracted to women than Khalil.) The one who bewitches her is the black man who opens the book: an unnamed poet whose show she and Khalil have gone to see…

Read the entire review here.

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Author Danzy Senna on Finding Inspiration After Leaving Brooklyn

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States on 2017-08-05 21:19Z by Steven

Author Danzy Senna on Finding Inspiration After Leaving Brooklyn

Vulture
2017-07-27

Joy Press


Photo: Lauren Tamaki

“When you are writing a novel, you are always trying to submerge yourself in a dream state, and New York was constantly waking me up from that state,” says Danzy Senna. She’s sitting outdoors at a shady café in South Pasadena, California, roughly 2,400 miles from Brooklyn, where she once lived and from which she drew inspiration for her propulsive new novel, New People.

South Pasadena, the sweet and sleepy town where we both currently reside, is not Brooklyn — it’s more like a Southern California hallucination of Mayberry. Its leafy streets and Craftsman houses regularly stand in for a middle-American idyll in movies, TV shows, and commercials. (The swaying palm trees reliably get cropped out of the frame.) Suburban L.A.’s low-stimulus environment has proved far more conducive to Senna’s writing than the boho hyperactivity of New York. Senna is the 46-year-old author of five books, including her celebrated 1998 debut novel, Caucasia, and all of her work explores the nuances of being mixed race in America with stinging humor and acuity. But, in some ways, “the central identity conflict in my life has been New York versus L.A.,” she says. “I became an author in New York, but it was like a book party that never ended. I became someone who had written something once. In Brooklyn, I’d walk out my door and bump into someone at seven in the morning at the dog park who would tell me about their six-figure book advance.” Los Angeles, by comparison, she jokes, is “so boring that your imagination becomes your life.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Saga of biracial elite couple offers a fresh take on identity, race, and class

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2017-08-01 18:09Z by Steven

Saga of biracial elite couple offers a fresh take on identity, race, and class

The Boston Globe
2017-07-28

Rebecca Steinitz, Globe Correspondent


Danzy Senna

Danzy Senna, New People, A Novel (New York: Riverhead, 2017)

It is 1996 in gentrifying Brooklyn, and Maria, the less-than-heroic heroine of “New People,’’ Danzy Senna’s sharp new novel, perches on the cusp of triumphant adulthood. Almost finished with her dissertation, “an ethnomusicology of the Peoples Temple” in Jonestown, Guyana, she is planning her Martha’s Vineyard wedding to aspiring Internet entrepreneur Khalil, her college boyfriend and perfect match: “She is the one he has been waiting for his whole life . . . He is the one she needs, the one who can repair her . . . Their skin is the same shade of beige.”

Products of “the Renaissance of Interracial Unions” at the end of the ’60s, the two are avatars of the “tangle of mud-colored New People who have come to carry the nation — blood-soaked, guilty of everything of which it has been accused — into the future,” so “perfect” they have been asked to star in “New People,’’ the documentary…

…Like Senna’s previous two novels “Caucasia’’ and “Symptomatic,’’ “New People’’ explores the fraught social and emotional world of the biracial elite. This is Senna’s world — “Caucasia’’ was built on the foundation of her 1970s Boston childhood, and Maria and Khalil attend Stanford in the early ’90s, as she did…

Read the entire review here.

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New People, A Novel

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2017-08-01 15:13Z by Steven

New People, A Novel

Riverhead (an imprint of Penguin)
2017-08-01
240 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1594487095
Paperback ISBN: 978-0735219410

Danzy Senna


From the bestselling author of Caucasia, a subversive and engrossing novel of race, class and manners in contemporary America.

As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect couple, “King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.” Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a starring role in a documentary about “new people” like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her–yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life but her very persona.

Heartbreaking and darkly comic, New People is a bold and unfettered page-turner that challenges our every assumption about how we define one another, and ourselves.

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