Interview with Sherry Jones, Author of 'Josephine Baker's Last Dance' @sherryjones #interview

Author and journalist Sherry Jones is best known for her international bestseller The Jewel of Medina. She is also the author of The Sword of MedinaFour SistersAll QueensThe Sharp Hook of Love, and the novella White Heart.  Sherry lives in Spokane, WA, where, like Josephine Baker, she enjoys dancing, singing, eating, advocating for equality, and drinking champagne.
Her latest novel is Josephine Baker’s Last Dance.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  When did you come up with the idea to write your book?

Having grown up a child of the South, I know about racism first-hand: My white family members, acquaintances, and friends in North Carolina, my home state, routinely used the “n” word. But I was also a military brat, and had great multicultural experiences as I traveled with my parents. My friends were Latinx, black, Asian, white. Hating someone because of their skin color seemed ridiculous. Seeing racism’s rise in the U.S. in recent years has felt shocking and disturbing—and I am a white person. How must people of color feel? I wanted to write something that might add to the conversation about our nation’s ugly racist history, and shed light on the evils of white supremacy today.
I knew that many black American performers moved to Paris in the 1920s to escape racial inequality: they were embraced there. I was interested in Josephine Baker as an example of a woman of color who moved back and forth between these worlds, and what that was like for her. By focusing on her experiences, I aimed to expose the ugliness and injustice of racial prejudice in America. Discovering her work as a World War II spy and, beginning in 1951, a U.S. civil rights activist, was therefore quite thrilling. I knew that, in her, I had made the right choice for my next protagonist.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

I spent four years researching and writing JOSEPHINE BAKER’S LAST DANCE. I had thought it would be easier than my previous novels, which were all set in medieval times. Ha! I had to research every tiny detail. Did you know that the first electrical appliances plugged directly into light sockets?

But my copious notes and the timeline I always use kept me on track. For a historical novelist, I think a timeline is indispensable. I’ve used one for every novel I’ve written, listing key events in my characters’ lives year by year. It comes in handy especially during revisions, when I’m choosing what to cut (my first drafts are always super long) and what to keep—the timeline helps me see what’s ahead.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, is my publisher. My literary agent, Natasha Kern, sent my proposal for Four Sisters, All Queens, which they published in 2012. They have been with me ever since, publishing The Sharp Hook of Love, my novel about the 12th-century scholars and lovers Abelard and Heloise, and my e-novella about Blanche de Castille, the White Queen of France, titled White Heart.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

I was very surprised when Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, offered me a six-figure advance for The Jewel of Medina and its sequel, The Sword of Medina. I wrote these novels about A’isha bint Abi Bakr, the youngest wife of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, because I hoped that portraying the founders of Islam in all their flawed humanity would help eradicate Islamophobia. I also wanted to show the world, including Muslim women, that Muhammad was an egalitarian and gave women many rights, and that oppression of women including the wearing of hijab was never Muhammad’s intention. I had wondered, however, if anyone in the United States really cared about Islam—and Ballantine’s offer told me “yes” in a most thrilling way.

I felt even more surprised, however, when, two months before the publication date, Ballentine executives canceled plans to publish the book because they feared terrorist attacks. My British publisher’s getting firebombed was a huge shock, as well. The book had not even been published yet! How naïve I was. However, these books’ becoming international best-sellers was a huge surprise, and a very pleasant one.

Q: What other books are you working on and when will they be published?

I’m working on two projects: a memoir and a novel about another courageous woman whose story will add to the conversation about gender identity.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

The night Josephine Baker died of a cerebral hemorrhage, she was dancing on the tables in a Paris café at 2 a.m. shouting, “I’m seventeen!”
Here’s another: During her 1951 U.S. tour, Ms. Baker had a notion to sit in the front of a public bus—but her agent dissuaded her, telling her it would be professional suicide. Rosa Parks would do it, instead, in 1955.

Q: Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?

I hope readers will think about racism—how evil it is, and how it hurts everyone. I hope that we all, like Ms. Baker, will seek mutual understanding and empathy, recognizing the humanity that we all share in common. As Josephine Baker and her friend Dr. King so beautifully and powerfully demonstrated, only love can save us.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

I write novels about kick-ass women in history, and Josephine Baker is the mother of them all. Please come and find me at I always write back!

About the Book:

Author: Sherry Jones
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 304
Genre: Biography/Historical

From the author of The Jewel of Medina, a moving and insightful novel based on the life of legendary performer and activist Josephine Baker, perfect for fans of The Paris Wife and Hidden Figures.

Discover the fascinating and singular life story of Josephine Baker—actress, singer, dancer, Civil Rights activist, member of the French Resistance during WWII, and a woman dedicated to erasing prejudice and creating a more equitable world—in Josephine Baker’s Last Dance.

In this illuminating biographical novel, Sherry Jones brings to life Josephine's early years in servitude and poverty in America, her rise to fame as a showgirl in her famous banana skirt, her activism against discrimination, and her many loves and losses. From 1920s Paris to 1960s Washington, to her final, triumphant performance, one of the most extraordinary lives of the twentieth century comes to stunning life on the page.

With intimate prose and comprehensive research, Sherry Jones brings this remarkable and compelling public figure into focus for the first time in a joyous celebration of a life lived in technicolor, a powerful woman who continues to inspire today.

Purchase Josephine Baker’s Last Dance in paperback,  ebook,  and  audiobook  formats on  Simon and Schuster’s website (available on Amazon,  Barnes and Noble,  BooksAMillion,  Indiebound,  Kobo,  and  other sites). Learn more about Sherry’s books  at

Behind the Mic: JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE with Adenrele Ojo. Listen as she discusses what it was like to narrate this epic book:

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