The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor, Raven Wilkinson

Ballerina and activist Misty Copeland (Black Ballerinas; Firebird; Life in Motion) pays tribute to her mentor, Raven Wilkinson, in her second memoir, The Wind at My Back, cowritten by Susan Fales-Hill. Copeland, the first Black female principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, had always drawn inspiration from her Black predecessors in classical ballet. But meeting Wilkinson in 2011 proved transformative for Copeland: here was a mentor who could truly understand her struggles as one of few Black women in the upper echelons of the ballet world. Copeland weaves her own story with Wilkinson's, sharing the latter's journey as the first Black dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, including stories of horrific discrimination she experienced while on tour in the American South. Wilkinson later joined the Dutch National Ballet and performed with the New York City Opera as a dancer and actor. Copeland champions Wilkinson's artistry and strength, praising her grace and warmth in the face of racism and other challenges.

Readers familiar with Copeland's work will appreciate the inside story of her historic performance in The Firebird, followed abruptly by a debilitating shin injury. Copeland shares her battle with impostor syndrome, her triumphs and anxieties around dancing Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and her deep gratitude for Wilkinson's steady encouragement through the seven years they knew each other. The epilogue calls out the enduring racism in the ballet world and elsewhere, reminding readers of the work still to be done. Thoughtful, vivid and warm, The Wind at My Back is a heartfelt tribute to a great artist and friend. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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