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Josephine Baker and Katherine DunhamDances in Literature and Cinema$
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Hannah Durkin

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042621

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042621.001.0001

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The Dancer as Translator

The Dancer as Translator

Dunham’s Ethnographic Memoirs

Chapter:
(p.47) Chapter Two The Dancer as Translator
Source:
Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham
Author(s):

Hannah Durkin

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5622/illinois/9780252042621.003.0003

This chapter investigates Katherine Dunham’s book-length ethnographies, Journey to Accompong (1946) and Island Possessed (1969), as autobiographical narratives that document the origins of her cross-cultural artistry. These texts recount Dunham’s experiences as a dance anthropologist in mid-1930s Jamaica and Haiti, shortly before she postponed her academic training to pursue a career on the stage and screen. Like Baker’s narratives, both works are highly reflexive and ambiguous and thus deserve recognition within an African American women’s autobiographical tradition. They position Dunham as a self-conscious narrator who immerses herself physically in the cultural practices that she has been assigned to record. Both texts therefore shed light on a much wider lifelong project, namely, Dunham’s attempt to legitimize Caribbean cultures by incorporating their dance rituals into concert dance.

Keywords:   Katherine Dunham, Journey to Accompong, Island Possessed, anthropology, autobiography, Haiti, Jamaica, vodou, dance, African American literature

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