Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Katherine Dunham  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult;

Born: 1909 in Chicago, Illinois

Died: 2006 in New York, New York

-- Katherine Dunham on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Dunham was born in Chicago. As a childe, she lived in Glen Ellyn, the south side of Chicago and Joliet, Illinois.

Biographical and Professional Information

Dunham was an American dancer, choreographer, and company director as well as an author, educator, and social activist. Dunham had one of the most successful dance careers in American and European theater of the 20th century and has been called the "matriarch and queen mother of black dance."

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Journey to Accompong
ISBN: 0837151872

Praeger. 1972

A Touch of Innocence: A Memoir of Childhood
ISBN: 0226171124

University of Chicago Press. 1994

An internationally known dancer, choreographer, and gifted anthropologist, Katherine Dunham was born to a black American tailor and a well-to-do French Canadian woman twenty years his senior. This book is Dunham's story of the chaos and conflict that entered her childhood after her mother's early death.

In stark prose, she tells of growing up in both black and white households and of the divisions of race and class in Chicago that become the harsh realities of her young life. A riveting narrative of one girl's struggle to transcend the painful confusions of a family and culture in turmoil, Dunham's story is full of the clarity, candor, and intelligence that lifted her above her troubled beginnings.

"A Touch of Innocence is an absorbing family chronicle written with a gift for physical detail sometimes too real for comfort. In quietly graphic prose the growing girl, the slightly older brother, the ambitious father and the kind stepmother are pictured in such human terms that when their lives get tied into harder and harder knots beyond their undoing, one can only continue to read helplessly as doom closes in upon the household."—Langston Hughes, New York Herald Tribune

"A Touch of Innocence is one of the most extraordinary life stories I have ever read . . . . The content of this book is so heartbreaking that only the strongest artistic skills can keep it from leaking out into sobbing self-pity, but Katherine Dunham's art contains it, understands it and refuses to be overwhelmed by its terrors."—Elizabeth Janeway, New York Times

"The first eighteen years of the famous dancer and choreographer's life are brought vividly to the reader in this first volume of her autobiography. She writes of what it is like to be a special, gifted young woman growing up in a racially mixed family in the American Middle West. A beautiful, touching and sometimes discomforting book."—Publishers Weekly

"As writing it is honest, searing, graphic and touching, giving us a rather heartbreaking early view of the young American Negro who was later to make a name for herself as a dancer and choreographer."—Arthur Todd, Saturday Review

Island Possessed
ISBN: 0226171132

University of Chicago Press. 1994

Just as surely as Haiti is "possessed" by the gods and spirits of vaudun (voodoo), the island "possessed" Katherine Dunham when she first went there in 1936 to study dance and ritual. In this book, Dunham reveals how her anthropological research, her work in dance, and her fascination for the people and cults of Haiti worked their spell, catapulting her into experiences that she was often lucky to survive. Here Dunham tells how the island came to be possessed by the demons of voodoo and other cults imported from various parts of Africa, as well as by the deep class divisions, particularly between blacks and mulattos, and the political hatred still very much in evidence today. Full of the flare and suspense of immersion in a strange and enchanting culture, Island Possessed is also a pioneering work in the anthropology of dance and a fascinating document on Haitian politics and voodoo.

Kasamance: A Fantasy
ISBN: 0893881287

The Third Press. 1974

The griot Mor Thiam was not only a great drummer, he was a great story teller.... Thiam would choose the first from a tray of kola nuts which were then passed around to all excepting the very young, and, seated in the midst of his extended family and friends, which made up together just about all of the village, pull up the long sleeves of his kaftan with a graceful gesture and begin his stories. Favorite of them all was Kasamance, a tale they never tired of. Kasamance took many sittings to tell in its entirety, and I am not certain that I have completed it, or that it ever will be complete. However, we will begin where Thiam began, addressing himself at times to all, at times to someone in particular,at times to no one in particular. And if we have made too many errors or have not faithfully followed the words of Thiam, we ask the All Powerful to forgive us, as this was not our intention. (excerpts from Foreword)