Author Sarah Broom rebuilds the memories of her childhood growing up in New Orleans East, in the 2019 book “The Yellow House,” which tells the story of her family home, bought by her mother in 1961, that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and demolished in 2016.
“I became the house, I needed to rebuild and create justice for my family, especially my mother. She used every cent she had to buy this house for my 12 siblings,” Broom told an audience at a public lecture held at Xavier University’s Ballroom on Sept. 11, 2019. Broom spoke for the Provost Lecture Series, which features new voices in the community. It took her 8 years to write this novel because of feelings she harbored over the years about a place she holds dear to her heart. Once she got motivated to write the novel, Broom began to collect data, interviews, and maps of the place she called “home.” Her brothers and sisters’ children inspired her to want to tell the story of their family history, so that future generations would not forget 4121 Wilson Avenue.
“I wrote the book that I needed, a story I wanted my nieces and nephews to read as well because growing up in New Orleans East there weren’t any stories of the East or even reference books,” Broom said. As the daughter of a mother who raised 12 children in that house, Broom shared how she
began to view her mother as a person instead of seeing her as a parental figure. She found her mother to be interesting because of her leap of faith to buy her own home at that time. “I saw my mother as a human being. I thought she was interesting because who really buys a house at the age of nineteen,” she said.
As Broom reflected on the house she grew up in, she remembered Chef Menteur Highway and how residents had to cross a the high rise to get to the city. When the Hurricane hit in 2005 she thought about the loss of what that house meant and how it was more than what the storm had taken away. “It’s more than just a place missing from the surface. When I came back the only thing left was my father’s cedar tree. That tree was symbolic. I would like to think of myself as the house,” Broom said. She shared that it felt surreal returning to New Orleans because it did not feel like the
place she fully remembered.
“I was yearning to belong but nothing remained the same. My foundation, my memories all seemed erased. How was I supposed to keep my childhood alive,” she said. Her deep roots in New Orleans East are shown throughout every section of the novel. The book displays admiration, longing, and constant love by Broom for a forgotten space. Broom made the audience think back to their own connections to their childhood homes and the feeling of being separated from the place of one’s birth. “I believe we all want to belong, but I can tell for Sarah this yellow house was more than just a house. It was home. I live in Alabama in a small house with two other siblings and my parents but, really twelve children! All I gotta say is that’s love,” said Bikhari Reyes, a student at Xavier who attended the lecture.
For Broom the meaning of a house is much deeper than just paint, four walls, wood, and a roof. “The people inside of a house make it a home,” said Jaylen Freeman, a Xavier student who attended the lecture. “Not the walls, fancy furniture, or roof. It’s not about that. I have family who live over in the East so I can identify with Sarah Broom. She not only put the East
back on the map, but she put every business, home, and Chef Menteur Highway back on the map,” Freeman said. “She let New Orleans know we exist.”