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Josephine Baker - Kees van Dongen, 1925

Josephine Baker – Kees van Dongen, 1925

I saw her a year before she died. She was greeting people at the Rainbow Sign in Berkeley, California. Ntozake Shange, a poet and playwright, coaxed me into the receiving line because I was shy. And when it came my turn I presented her with a copy of [Mumbo Jumbo,] the novel on whose cover I had used an old photo of her to represent two sides of the Vodoun goddess Erzulie. And she flashed that famous smile and squinted those famous eyes and she said, ‘Do you know the young man who wrote this book?’ I was so awestruck, I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I knows him,’ forgetting that that young man was me. That was Josephine Baker. Such a divine presence she made you forget yourself.

– Ishmael Reed in the New York Times Book Review, December 12, 1976

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