Home and Place

Journalism alumna's classes taught her the importance of rigor and details – skills that she used to write the critically acclaimed memoir The Yellow House.
Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón
The Yellow House book cover

When Sarah Broom ('02) first came to UNT as a student in 1997, she frequently jotted down memories about her family's home in New Orleans.

"I was obsessed from the moment that I left the house and first entered UNT," she says. "I didn't know it at the time, but I was making a lot of notes that would be the book."

That book is The Yellow House (Grove), a memoir of her family that has garnered praise from Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and other major publications and has been longlisted for the National Book Award for nonfiction. The house, purchased by her mother in 1961, was always falling down, with stairs and plumbing going unrepaired. Her father died in the house just a few months after Sarah, the youngest of 12 siblings, was born. And when Hurricane Katrina blew through in 2005, the house was destroyed. She couldn't help but put her thoughts down.

"One thing I learned in hindsight is that to write a long work, you have to be very invested and interested in it," Broom says. "The project requires so much self-encouragement. I needed to feel obsessed, and I was completely obsessed by what the house meant to my family."

Writing about the home came naturally since Broom wanted to be a writer since childhood.

"I have always loved words and sought the kind of solitude that you are allowed when you are writing or making something," she says.

In high school, a friend mentioned he was considering UNT for its jazz program and Broom, who hadn't been introduced to any colleges at that point, decided to enroll. A journalism and anthropology major, she spent much of her time in the offices of the North Texas Daily, where she held almost every position, from opinion page editor to managing editor.

Journalism professor Keith Shelton ('72 M.A.) had an "enormous and profound effect" on her. His classes stressed rigor, making sure every detail was right.

"He has a lot to do with me being the reporter and writer that I am today," she says.

As a scholar in UNT's McNair program, which provides undergraduates with faculty-mentored intensive research experiences, she worked with journalism associate professor Meta G. Carstarphen, now at the University of Oklahoma, on a study about book publishing trends. She learned about work ethic and social justice issues from Syl Flores, former assistant dean in the then-School of Community Service.

After graduation, Broom wrote for such publications as The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, and received her master's in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2004.

She also served as executive director for Village Health Works, a nonprofit organization that brings health care to the African nation of Burundi. She worked with another nonprofit, The Praxis Project, as its communications director.

And she kept writing about her family's home. In 2011, she landed a book deal and began putting together all the pieces she had written. Twenty years after jotting her first notes, The Yellow House is now ready for readers.

"I always have been someone who cares about connection," she says. "I hope the book speaks about home and place."

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