In this edition of Endnotes, we take a look at Karen Valby's The Swans of Harlem (Pantheon, Apr.), the history of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, America's first permanent Black professional ballet company, and its five founding ballerinas. In a starred review, PW called the book "a captivating corrective to an often-whitewashed history."

Here's how the book came together.

Karen Valby, Author

“Fundamentally, I consider this book a gift to my daughters—young Black girls who are dancers themselves. They deserve to know about the Swans, and to feel surrounded by the power of example. Writing in this case felt like an act of mothering.”

Barbara Jones, Literary Agent, Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency

“Karen Valby reported and wrote this book. It’s her work. But it is the Swans’ content, their story. Karen and the Swans share copyright and proceeds. There was a lively auction for the book and not one publisher questioned this arrangement. I didn’t imagine this arrangement would be unique, but it turns out to be somewhat unusual.”

Naomi Gibbs, Executive Editor, Pantheon

“I fell head over heels for this book. And then meeting with Karen and the Swans—even on Zoom—it was impossible not to champion their story. Everyone at Pantheon saw so much potential in it and was so moved by the history and their efforts to forge and inspire a larger sense of community, mentorship, and support in Black ballet.”

Linda Huang, Art Director, Pantheon

“I wanted to evoke the elegance, glamor, and beauty of ballet and looked at vintage ballet posters for inspiration. The gold background was inspired by paintings of the Harlem Renaissance. But the challenge was compositional: how to feature all five dancers on the cover. I found a solution with the type sitting at the bottom, with several dancers perched on the type and a few leaping in the air.”

Marcia Sells, First-Generation Ballerina, Dance Theatre of Harlem

“Once Karen got to know us and we learned about her, it was easy considering her as the person to tell our story. We had very emotional and poignant meetings. The questions she asked sparked memories about meeting each other, meeting Arthur Mitchell, dancing in the company, seeing Dance Theatre of Harlem for the first time. ”