Dream Big

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

0
Posted May 10, 2012 in Arts & Culture

Original Dreamgirl Sheryl Lee Ralph tells the truth about who a diva really is

Is it so horrible to know what you want?

You don’t think so. That’s why you’re decisive, you state your needs clearly and firmly, and you expect people to act accordingly. What’s wrong with that?

Nothing. So why do people call you the “B” word that rhymes with itch? You’re not nasty or horrible, so why would they call you a diva?

Author Sheryl Lee Ralph doesn’t know the answer. But, as she says in her new book Redefining Diva, if they call you that last name, you really should thank them.

Okay, so you’re a diva. What is that, anyhow?

The word, says Ralph, has gotten a bum rap lately, but it was originally an Italian noun derived from the Latin word for deity; in other words, a diva is a goddess. Ralph also says that the word is an acronym for Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed.

A diva, says Ralph, “copies no one. She is her own woman.”

Ralph became a diva through a lifetime of observing strong women. Her mother, a Jamaican immigrant, worked in a hospital to pay for her ticket to America. Ralph’s grandmother, a North Carolina belle, was headstrong and fearless enough to tussle with the burglars who killed her husband.

Divas, you see, know that risks are to be seized.

At 16, Ralph took on a big risk when she went to Rutgers University.

She had initially considered going to medical school, but she hated dissecting. She switched to law school, but it was “boring.” Then Ralph stumbled into drama auditions, tried out for a play and found her niche.

When a Diva discovers what she’s meant to do, Ralph says, she knows it.

After working with the Defense Department, she landed in Hollywood and the movies, but Broadway was her first love. Good Diva that she is, she tackled every opportunity, which eventually gained her a part as one of the original Dreamgirls in the stage show. She ultimately quit the show, went back to Hollywood, and enjoyed more fame on television.

Today, Ralph still acts because Divas know “yes” can be satisfying. She also works with the Diva Foundation, an organization that focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness and testing. She does it to memorialize her friends and because, she says, a “real Diva counts . . . her blessings.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect when “Redefining Diva” crossed my desk. Is it a memoir? Or is it meant to inspire?

The answer to that is, delightfully, both.

Author Sheryl Lee Ralph weaves a lot of advice into this biography, giving readers plenty of takeaways while she shares tales of family, fame and folly.

And that’s what makes this book so enjoyable: Ralph imparts life lessons in between star-studded gossip and her own experiences, on-stage and off. Advisements are wrapped inside anecdotes, which somehow make them more memorable and definitely more fun to read.

I liked this book, and I think you will, too. Read Redefining Diva for the advice. Read it for the biography. Either way, this’ll be a book you’ll want.

Redefining Diva: Life Lessons From the Original Dreamgirl by Sheryl Lee Ralph, Gallery Books, 200 pages. List price: $14.


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