Upwardly Mobile, Spiraling Down, Finding Balance

The acclaimed author of "Good Hair" recollects a dark period in her life following her mother's death.

"Welcome to My Breakdown" by Benilde Little.
Photo courtesy of publisher.

Benilde Little’s memoir, Welcome to My Breakdown, due this month from Atria Books, delves into familiar themes: spiraling into depression after losing a loved one; the tedium of family life; and the conundrums of raising black children of privilege.

Yet Little, best-selling author of the 1996 novel Good Hair and three other page-turners about affluent African-American women, transcends the familiar. Her prose sings its own brokenhearted tune.

Welcome to My Breakdown opens in Newark, where Little grew up in a family blessed, she writes, with “slightly more than many post-riot black Newark households.” Her life followed an upward trajectory: college at Howard University; high-profile jobs at People and Essence; marriage to a successful businessman; two healthy kids; a comfortable home in Montclair; and a flourishing literary career.

Then came the collapse triggered by her mother’s death in 2009. Her enviable life crumbled into malaise, physical pain and writer’s block. While friends, yoga classes and shopping sprees provided uplift and episodes of grace, Little’s inner fragility only amplified her grief.

Most memoirs describe journeys of self-discovery and redemption, and Little’s is no exception. At its conclusion, though, she doesn’t surge back to life sorrow-free. Rather, she leaves us with a sense that the twin strands of toughness and tenderness within her have braided themselves into a kind of equilibrium. After traveling these fearless pages with her, readers will cross their fingers, hoping the balance holds.

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