ABOUT THIS BOOK
Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham were the two most acclaimed and commercially successful African American dancers of their era and among the first black women to enjoy international screen careers. Both also produced fascinating memoirs that provided vital insights into their artistic philosophies and choices. However, difficulties in accessing and categorizing their works on the screen and on the page have obscured their contributions to film and literature. Hannah Durkin investigates Baker and Dunham’s films and writings to shed new light on their legacies as transatlantic artists and civil rights figures. Their trailblazing dancing and choreography reflected a belief that they could use film to confront racist assumptions while also imagining—within significant confines—new aesthetic possibilities for black women. Their writings, meanwhile, revealed their creative process, engagement with criticism, and the ways each mediated cultural constructions of black women's identities. Durkin pays particular attention to the ways dancing bodies function as ever-changing signifiers and de-stabilizing transmitters of cultural identity. In addition, she offers an overdue appraisal of Baker and Dunham's places in cinematic and literary history.