American Diva

Extraordinary, Unruly, Fabulous

2 August 2024


An impassioned homage to the divas who shake up our world and transform it with their bold, dazzling artistry

What does it mean to be a “diva”? A shifting, increasingly loaded term, it has been used to both deride and celebrate charismatic and unapologetically fierce performers like Aretha Franklin, Divine and the women of Labelle. In this brilliant, powerful blend of incisive criticism and electric memoir, Deborah Paredez—scholar, cultural critic and lifelong diva devotee—unravels our enduring fascination with these icons and explores how divas have challenged American ideas about feminism, performance and freedom.

American Diva journeys into Tina Turner’s scintillating performances, Celia Cruz’s command of the male-dominated salsa world, the transcendent revival of Jomama Jones after a period of exile and the unparalleled excellence of Venus and Serena Williams. Recounting how she and her mother endlessly watched Rita Moreno’s powerhouse portrayal of Anita in West Side Story and how she learned much about being bigger than life from her fabulous Tía Lucia, Paredez chronicles the celebrated and skilled performers who not only shaped her life but boldly expressed the aspiration for freedom among brown, Black and gay communities. Paredez also traces the evolution of the diva through the decades, dismayed at the mid-aughts’ commodification and juvenilising of its meaning but finding its lasting beauty and power.


"American Diva is a marvel...The divas here all share a virtuosity that demands fierce labor and daring charisma. Divas use their voices and bodies to turn pain into pleasure and defeat into glory. One of Paredez’s great themes is that a diva can empower her audience—us—to reach beyond our ordinary selves. Diva ambition is potent and generous. It challenges other artists and defies cultural pieties. Deborah Paredez is the American Diva reborn as scholar, poet, and critic." — Margo Jefferson, author of Constructing a Nervous System

"In ten exquisitely crafted chapters, Deborah Paredez shows us how divas as diverse as her aunt Lucia, Rita Moreno, Aretha Franklin, and many others define our limitations and our aspirations as individuals, a nation, and a people—brown, Black, and queer. Too big, bold, beautiful, and messy to be confined within enclosures or by borders, they lead us somewhere outside, to the edge, through the abyss, to that transcendent space where we might experience something akin to freedom. Here is a book as ambitious, original, and beautiful as its subject." — Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of Read Until You Understand

"Equal parts memoir, cultural criticism, and music history, Deborah Paredez’s eloquent and thought-provoking exploration of divadom radiates with the passion, color, and magnetism of the divas she adores." — Holly George-Warren, author of Janis: Her Life and Music

"Is it possible to breathe life into the slack mouth of a term that’s been both overused and misunderstood nearly since it became common two hundred years ago? Deborah Paredez proves it is. As Paredez expands the diva definition, she presents a new vision of American culture that is, in true diva fashion, multifaceted and brazenly alive." — Ann Powers, author of Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell

"The author, like her singing-while-dancing-in-stilettos subjects, does a lot, giving us memoir, music criticism and rhapsodic accounts of performance, studded with general claims about divadom" — Emily Lordi, The Wall Street Journal



160 x 236 mm • 256 pages


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