Ntozake Shange

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Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange, Reid Lecture, Women Issues Luncheon, Women's Center, November 1978 Crisco edit.jpg
Shange in 1978
Paulette Linda Williams

(1948-10-18)October 18, 1948
DiedOctober 27, 2018(2018-10-27) (aged 70)
Education Columbia University (BA)
University of Southern California (MA)
OccupationPlaywright, Author
Known for for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf
Website officialntozakeshange.com

Ntozake Shange ( /ˈɛntˌzɑːkiˈʃɑːŋɡ/ EN-toh-zah-kee SHAHNG-gay; [1] October 18, 1948 – October 27, 2018) was an American playwright and poet. [2] As a Black feminist, she addressed issues relating to race and Black power in much of her work. She is best known for her Obie Award-winning play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf . She also penned novels including Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982), Liliane (1994), and Betsey Brown (1985), about an African-American girl runaway from home. Among Shange's honors and awards were fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, and a Pushcart Prize. In April 2016, Barnard College announced it had acquired Shange's archive. [3] Shange lived in Brooklyn, New York. [4]

The Obie Awards or Off-Broadway Theater Awards are annual awards originally given by The Village Voice newspaper to theatre artists and groups in New York City. In September 2014, the awards were jointly presented and administered with the American Theatre Wing. As the Tony Awards cover Broadway productions, the Obie Awards cover Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions.

<i>For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf</i> play written by Ntozake Shange

for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf is Ntozake Shange's first work and most acclaimed theater piece, premiered in 1976. It consists of a series of poetic monologues to be accompanied by dance movements and music, a form Shange coined as the choreopoem. for colored girls... tells the stories of seven women who have suffered oppression in a racist and sexist society.


Early life

Shange was born Paulette Linda Williams [1] in Trenton, New Jersey, [5] to an upper-middle-class family. Her father, Paul T. Williams, was an Air Force surgeon, and her mother, Eloise Williams, was an educator and a psychiatric social worker. When she was aged eight, Shange's family moved to the racially segregated city of St. Louis. As a result of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, Shange was bused to a white school where she endured racism and racist attacks.

Trenton, New Jersey Capital of New Jersey

Trenton is the capital city of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. it briefly served as the capital of the United States in 1784. The city's metropolitan area, consisting of Mercer County, is grouped with the New York Combined Statistical Area by the United States Census Bureau, but it directly borders the Philadelphia metropolitan area and was from 1990 until 2000 part of the Philadelphia Combined Statistical Area. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913, making it the state's tenth most populous municipality. The Census Bureau estimated that the city's population was 84,034 in 2014.

United States Air Force Air and space warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial and space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces, and one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially formed as a part of the United States Army on 1 August 1907, the USAF was established as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 18 September 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. It is the youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the fourth in order of precedence. The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world. The Air Force articulates its core missions as air and space superiority, global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.

<i>Brown v. Board of Education</i> United States Supreme Court case

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that American state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools are otherwise equal in quality. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," and therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the decision's 14 pages did not spell out any sort of method for ending racial segregation in schools, and the Court's second decision in Brown II only ordered states to desegregate "with all deliberate speed".

Shange's family had a strong interest in the arts and encouraged her artistic education. Among the guests at their home were Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and W. E. B. Du Bois. [6] From an early age, Shange took an interest in poetry. [7] While growing up with her family in Trenton, Shange attended poetry readings with her younger sister Wanda (now known as the playwright Ifa Bayeza). [8] These poetry readings fostered an early interest for Shange in the South in particular, and the loss it represented to young Black children who migrated to the North with their parents. [7] In 1956, Shange's family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where Shange was sent several miles away from home to a non-segregated school that allowed her to receive "gifted" education. While attending this non-segregated school, Shange faced overt racism and harassment. These experiences would later go on to heavily influence her work. [6]

Dizzy Gillespie American jazz trumpeter

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and singer.

Miles Davis American jazz musician

Miles Dewey Davis III was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in a five-decade career that kept him at the forefront of many major stylistic developments in jazz.

Chuck Berry American rock-and-roll guitarist, singer, songwriter

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was an American singer and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive. Writing lyrics that focused on teen life and consumerism, and developing a music style that included guitar solos and showmanship, Berry was a major influence on subsequent rock music.

When Shange was 13, she returned to Lawrence Township, Mercer County, New Jersey, [9] where she graduated from Lawrence High School. [10] In 1966 Shange enrolled at Barnard College (class of 1970) at Columbia University in New York City. During her time at Barnard, Shange met fellow Barnard student and would-be poet Thulani Davis. [11] The two poets would later go on to collaborate on various works. [11] Shange graduated cum laude in American Studies, then earned a master's degree in the same field from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. However, her college years were not all pleasant. She married during her first year in college, but the marriage did not last long. Depressed over her separation and with a strong sense of bitterness and alienation, she attempted suicide. [12] In 1971, having come to terms with her depression and alienation, Shange changed her name. In Zulu, Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things" and Shange means "who walks like a lion" . [13]

Lawrence Township, Mercer County, New Jersey Township in New Jersey, United States

Lawrence Township is a township in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. The township is part of the New York Metropolitan area as defined by the United States Census Bureau, but directly borders the Philadelphia metropolitan area and is part of the Federal Communications Commission's Philadelphia Designated Market Area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 33,472, reflecting an increase of 4,313 (+14.8%) from the 29,159 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 3,372 (+13.1%) from the 25,787 counted in the 1990 Census.

Lawrence High School (New Jersey) school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey

Lawrence High School (LHS) is a four-year comprehensive public high school in Lawrence Township, Mercer County, New Jersey, United States, serving students in ninth through twelfth grades as the lone secondary school of the Lawrence Township Public Schools. The school has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Secondary Schools since 1992.

Barnard College private womens liberal arts college in the United States

Barnard College is a private women's liberal arts college located in Manhattan, New York City. Founded in 1889 by Annie Nathan Meyer, who named it after Columbia University's 10th president, Frederick Barnard, it is one of the oldest women's colleges in the world. The acceptance rate of the Class of 2023 was 11.3%, the most selective and diverse class in the college's 129-year history.


In 1975, Shange moved back to New York City, after earning her master's degree in American Studies in 1973 [14] from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California. She is acknowledged as having been a founding poet of the Nuyorican Poets Café. [15] In that year her first and most well-known play was produced — for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf . First produced Off-Broadway, the play soon moved on to Broadway at the Booth Theater and won several awards, including the Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and the AUDELCO Award. This play, her most famous work, was a 20-part choreopoem — a term Shange coined to describe her groundbreaking dramatic form, combining of poetry, dance, music, and song [16] — that chronicled the lives of women of color in the United States. The poem was eventually made into the stage play, was then published in book form in 1977. In 2010, the choreopoem was adapted into a film ( For Colored Girls , directed by Tyler Perry). Shange subsequently wrote other successful plays, including Spell No. 7 , a 1979 choreopoem that explores the Black experience, [17] and an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), which won an Obie Award. [18]

University of Southern California Private research university in Los Angeles, California, United States

The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1880, it is the oldest private research university in California. For the 2018–19 academic year, there were 20,000 students enrolled in four-year undergraduate programs. USC also has 27,500 graduate and professional students in a number of different programs, including business, law, engineering, social work, occupational therapy, pharmacy, and medicine. It is the largest private employer in the city of Los Angeles, and generates $8 billion in economic impact on Los Angeles and California.

Nuyorican Poets Café

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe is a nonprofit organization in Alphabet City in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It is a bastion of the Nuyorican art movement in New York City, and has become a forum for poetry, music, hip hop, video, visual arts, comedy and theatre. Several events during the PEN World Voices festival are hosted at the cafe.

An Off-Broadway theatre is any professional venue in Manhattan in New York City with a seating capacity between 100 and 499, inclusive. These theatres are smaller than Broadway theatres, but larger than Off-Off-Broadway theatres, which seat fewer than 100.

In 1978, Shange became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP). [19] WIFP is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media. Shange taught in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston from 1984 to 1986. While there she wrote the ekphrastic poetry collection Ridin the Moon in Texas: Word Paintings and served as thesis advisor for poet and playwright Annie Finch. In 2003, Shange wrote and oversaw the production of Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines: Layla's Dream while serving as a visiting artist at the University of Florida, Gainesville. [20]

Womens Institute for Freedom of the Press

Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP) is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media. WIFP operates as both a national and international feminist network.

University of Houston state research university in Houston, Texas, United States

The University of Houston (UH) is a state research university and the main institution of the University of Houston System. Founded in 1927, UH is the third-largest university in Texas with over 46,000 students. Its campus spans 667 acres in southeast Houston, and was known as University of Houston–University Park from 1983 to 1991. The Carnegie Foundation classifies UH as a doctoral degree-granting institution with "highest research activity." The U.S. News & World Report ranks the university No. 171 in its National University Rankings, and No. 91 among top public universities.

Annie Finch is an American poet, writer, and performance artist. Central themes of her poetry, memoir, and nonfiction include feminism and women-centered spirituality.

Shange's individual poems, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Black Scholar , Yardbird, Ms. , Essence Magazine , The Chicago Tribune , VIBE , Daughters of Africa , and Third-World Women. [7]

Relationship to the Black Arts Movement

The Black Arts Movement—also known as BAM—has been described as the "aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept." [21] The Black Arts Movement is a subset of the Black Power Movement. Larry Neal described the Black Arts Movement as a "radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic." Key concepts of BAM were focused on a "separate symbolism, mythology, critique, and iconology" as well as the African American’s desire for "self-determination and nationhood." [21] BAM consisted of actors, actresses, choreographers, musicians, novelists, poets, photographers and artists. Though male artists such as Amiri Baraka heavily dominated the Black Arts Movement, some notable women writers of the movement were Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Rosa Guy, Lorraine Hansberry, Lucille Clifton, and Sonia Sanchez, among others. Although Shange is described as a "post-Black artist," her work was decidedly feminist whereas BAM has been criticized as misogynistic and "sexism had been widely and hotly debated within movement publications and organizations." [21] Corresponding with the idea that art from BAM was a "radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic," Shange herself described her atypical writing style. In regards to her plays, she stated: "A play has a form that has to be finished. A performance piece has an organic form, but it can even flow. And there doesn’t have to be some ultimate climax in it. And there does not have to be a denouement." [22]

Though Shange's work did have a "radical reordering of western cultural aesthetic" with its spelling, structure, and style, Baraka—one of the leading male figures of the movement denied her as a post-Black artist. [21] In regards to Shange as a part of the black aesthetic and as a post-Black artist, he claimed "that several women writers, among them Michelle Wallace [sic] and Ntozake Shange, like [Ishmael] Reed, had their own 'Hollywood' aesthetic, one of 'capitulation' and 'garbage.'" [21] In regards to a black aesthetic, Shange described different styles of writing for different parts of the country. She stated: "There’s not a California style, but there are certain feelings and a certain freeness that set those writers off from those in the Chicago-St. Louis-Detroit tripod group…so that the chauvinism that you might find that’s exclusionary, in that triangle, you don’t find too much in California." [7] Shange set her writing apart from the Black aesthetic of the Black arts movement by creating a "special aesthetic" for black women "to an extent." She claimed, "the same rhetoric that is used to establish the Black Aesthetic, we must use to establish a women’s aesthetic, which is to say that those parts of reality that are ours, those things about our bodies, the cycles of our lives that have been ignored for centuries in all castes and classes of our people, are to be dealt with now." [7]


Shange died in her sleep October 27, 2018, aged 70, in an assisted living facility in Bowie, Maryland. [23] She had been ill, having suffered a series of strokes in 2004, [24] but she "had been on the mend lately, creating new work, giving readings and being feted for her work." [25] Her sister Ifa Bayeza (with whom she co-wrote the 2010 novel Song Sing, Some Cry) [26] was quoted as saying: "It’s a huge loss for the world. I don’t think there’s a day on the planet when there’s not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister." [25]







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Further reading