May 21, 2024

American Diva

By Deborah Paredez
Review by
The exuberant American Diva celebrates “extraordinary, unruly, fabulous” women who earned their diva status and stood the test of time.
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When Deborah Paredez describes the women she awards diva status as “extraordinary, unruly, fabulous,” she is just getting started. In tributes as impassioned and exuberant as any of her subjects, the college professor and poet offers a diverse collection of women to be celebrated and emulated. American Diva: Extraordinary, Unruly, Fabulous is the grand platform Paredez creates for her stars as she tells their stories, bedecked with her own scintillating flourishes. 

Paredez memorializes divas at a propulsive pace. Here is the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz; the effervescent and doomed Selena; Tina Turner performing “Proud Mary” with “inimitable ferocity”; Rita Moreno, on-fire dancer and vengeful victim in the movie West Side Story; Venus and Serena Williams, “defying the naysayers” and dominating the courts; Aretha Franklin, “a queen bee dripping with so much nectar” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. These iconic women, both here and gone, have earned their diva status and, Paredez insists, stand as beacons of feminism for future generations.

Divas, by Paredez’s definition, are “strong, complicated, imperfect, virtuosic women who last and last and last.” But competing definitions of divas have made their way into the culture. Newsweek cautioned parents against “Generation Diva” in 2009, and divas, “once synonymous with virtuosity, became symbols of vitriol.” Meanwhile, tween icons like Miley Cyrus—whose exploits as Hannah Montana came “adorned with sparkly merchandise”—were on the rise. Young girls have learned to dress, dance and perform as the stars they yearn to be. Paredez wonders, has a diva instead become “a means of convincing girls that singing along to a power ballad in a sequined T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Li’l Diva’ equals actual power”? The downside to such youthful appropriation becomes clear by contrast: The women whose careers Paredez showcases in American Diva are real and powerful in their sheer fearless embrace of their own best selves—rendering moot any worshipful imitation.

Paredez doesn’t hold back, and is especially startling in her candor about her own impetuous coming of age. Bookending this star-studded lineup is the author’s own beloved Lucia, the aunt who introduced her to all things diva: Dress up, dance, sing or ace your serve—and always accessorize. The rest—success, money, fame, love—will happen only if you are strong enough to make it so.

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American Diva

American Diva

By Deborah Paredez
ISBN 9781324035305

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