Sarah M. Broom won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for her first book, “The Yellow House,” which intertwines memoir with the history of a dilapidated but well-loved house and an idiosyncratic city – New Orleans. Broom has a master’s in journalism from U.C. Berkeley and has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine and worked for O, The Oprah Magazine. She lives in Harlem. Not long after winning the award, Broom embarked on a long trip across Europe and into Morocco.
BOOKS: What books did you bring on your trip?
BROOM: I wanted to bring the actual books and I wanted to read writers belonging to each of the places I went to. In Paris, where my trip started, I read Leila Slimani’s “The Perfect Nanny,” which is so thrilling, but light for me. I normally read these very philosophical writers. Along with that I read “The Dolphin Letters,” the collected letters between Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick. I was reading Toni Morrison’s “Sula” in Paris too. Ever since she died I’ve been reading some of her work every day. I also brought “Conversations with Toni Morrison,” a collection of interviews she gave edited by Danille K. Taylor-Guthrie.
BOOKS: What have you read while traveling in Spain and Portugal?
BROOM: In Spain, “A Heart so White,” by one of my favorite writers, Javier Marias, who lives in Madrid. Today I finished reading Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Light of the World,” which is a memoir of her life after her husband died. It just threw me into a melancholic state here in Lisbon.
BOOKS: How do you manage traveling with all these books?
BROOM: It’s really hard for me to read on a Kindle. I’m a big writer in books, and I can’t read in the tub with an iPad. It’s a crucial thing for me to do. My partner makes jokes that I’m not taking a bath at all. I’m just in the water to read. I came from a wild houseful of siblings but if you were in the bathtub people understood you were off limits.
BOOKS: Were you an avid reader as a child?
BROOM: I was always, always, always a reader. Everyone read in our house. One crucial thing was that my sister-in-law lived on our street. She was an insatiable reader and would give me all the books she read. Some were indecent romance novels.
BOOKS: Do you prefer fiction or nonfictions?
BROOM: Typically, I’m a big fiction reader, but this has been a strange year because I went on book tour and was always on a plane. I strangely read more nonfiction as a result. I thought Saidiya Hartman’s “Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments” was amazing. She writes about urban black women in the early 20th century. The other one I loved was Scholastique Mukasonga’s “The Barefoot Woman,” which is about her mother in Rwanda. That book is about home and family, the lengths to which her mother would go to preserve those things. Ilya Kaminsky’s poetry collection “Deaf Republic” has just blown my mind. Imani Perry’s “Breathe” has been huge too. That’s something we haven’t seen, a black woman addressing her two sons.
BOOKS: Who are the authors you would more typically read?
BROOM: The fiction writers I love are W. G. Sebold, who I read over and over, David Grossman and Nicole Krauss. Jamaica Kincaid’s novel “The Autobiography of My Mother” is a biblical text for me. Another biblical text is Elizabeth Hardwick’s “Sleepless Nights.” I also eat up everything Lydia Davis writes.
BOOKS: Did working in the books department of O Magazine change you as a reader?
BROOM: I learned to read books out loud with an editor there who loved books like they were her children. Often late at night we would read books to each other aloud. It’s one of the most joyous things in my whole experience of being a reader is reading books with her there.