cover image American Diva: Extraordinary, Unruly, Fabulous

American Diva: Extraordinary, Unruly, Fabulous

Deborah Paredez. Norton, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-324-03530-5

Poet Paredez (Selenidad) explores in this vibrant study why divas—female performers characterized by their “virtuosity, charisma, and capacity for reinvention”—have been alternately “revered and reviled.” Profile subjects include Tina Turner, who performed onstage with an “inimitable ferocity” and bodily power that belied the offstage abuse she endured from her husband, Ike Turner. Rita Moreno’s “flamboyant” dancing as Anita in the film version of West Side Story mirrored the character’s (and actor’s) refusal to follow “linear” American assimilation narratives. Singer Celia Cruz asserted herself as a Black woman in the “male-dominated, lighter-skinned realm of salsa,” including during one memorable 1974 sound check for a concert in the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was told she could stop singing and didn’t, as if to say, Paredez imagines, “When you start something you better see it... all the way the fuck through.” Yet divahood has its risks, the author notes, particularly for Black and brown women. When Venus and Serena Williams refused to hew to “grateful Black athlete” stereotypes during their 2000s rise, they were jeered at and maligned for their confidence—“diva girls,” Paredez writes, were celebrated only if they “sparkled with whiteness” and didn’t acknowledge their talent. Paredez’s insightful analysis is interwoven with evocative memories of divas she’s known, including her Tía Lucia, who was “never afraid of the big gamble,” and who once marched a young Paredez into a newly opened San Antonio hotel so they could ride the glass elevators as if they were guests. The result is an inspiring ode to powerful women. (May)