Paulette Linda Williams
October 18, 1948
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||October 27, 2018 70) (aged|
Bowie, Maryland, U.S.
|Education|| Columbia University (BA)|
University of Southern California (MA)
|Known for||for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf (1975)|
|Relatives|| Savannah Shange (daughter)|
Ifa Bayeza (sister)
Bisa Williams (sister)
Paul T. Williams, Jr. (brother)
Ntozake Shange ( /ˌɛntoʊˈzɑːkiˈʃɑːŋɡeɪ/ EN-toh-ZAH-kee SHAHNG-gay;  October 18, 1948 – October 27, 2018) was an American playwright and poet.  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 (1975). She also penned novels including Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982), Liliane (1994), and Betsey Brown (1985), about an African-American girl run away from home. Among Shange's honors and awards were fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, a Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a Pushcart Prize. In April 2016, Barnard College announced that it had acquired Shange's archive.  She lived in Brooklyn, New York.  Shange had one daughter, Savannah Shange. Shange was married twice: to the saxophonist David Murray and the painter McArthur Binion, Savannah's father, with both marriages ending in divorce. 
Shange was born Paulette Linda Williams in Trenton, New Jersey,  to an upper-middle-class family. Her father, Paul T. Williams, was a 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.
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, Paul Robeson, and W. E. B. Du Bois.   From an early age, Shange took an interest in poetry.  While growing up with her family in Trenton, Shange attended poetry readings with her younger sister Wanda (now known as the playwright Ifa Bayeza).  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.  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. 
When Shange was 13, she returned to Lawrence Township, Mercer County, New Jersey,  where she graduated in 1966 from Trenton Central High School.  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.  The two poets would later go on to collaborate on various works.  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.  In 1970 in San Francisco, having come to terms with her depression and alienation, Shange rejected "Williams" as a slave name and "Paulette" (after her father Paul) as patriarchal, and asked South African musicians Ndikho and Nomusa Xaba (also spelled Ndikko and Zaba)  to bestow an African name.  In 1971 Ndikho duly chose Ntozake and Shange,  which Shange respectively glossed as Xhosa "She who comes with her own things" and Zulu "She who walks like a lion".  
In 1975, Shange moved back to New York City, after earning her master's degree in American Studies in 1973  from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California. She is acknowledged as having been a founding poet of the Nuyorican Poets Café.  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  — 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,  and an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), which won an Obie Award. 
In 1978, Shange became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP).  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. 
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. 
The Black Arts Movement—also known as BAM—has been described as the "aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept."  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."  BAM consisted of actors, actresses, choreographers, musicians, novelists, poets, photographers, and artists. While 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."  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." 
Though Shange's work did have a "radical reordering of western cultural aesthetics" with its spelling, structure, and style, Baraka—one of the leading male figures of the movement—denied her as a post-Black artist.  With regard 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.'" 
In terms of a black aesthetic, Shange described different styles of writing for different parts of the country, stating: "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."  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." 
Shange died in her sleep on October 27, 2018, aged 70, in an assisted-living facility in Bowie, Maryland.  She had been ill, having suffered a series of strokes in 2004,  but she "had been on the mend lately, creating new work, giving readings and being feted for her work."  Her sister Ifa Bayeza (with whom she co-wrote the 2010 novel Some Sing, Some Cry)  said: "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." 
for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf is Ntozake Shange's first work and most acclaimed theater piece, which 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.
Woodie King Jr. is an American director and producer of stage and screen, as well as the founding director of the New Federal Theatre in New York City.
Tracy Price-Thompson is an American speaker, novelist, editor, and retired United States Army Engineer Officer. She is a decorated veteran of the Gulf War.
Alta Gerrey is a British-American poet, prose writer, and publisher, best known as the founder of the feminist press Shameless Hussy Press and editor of the Shameless Hussy Review. Her 1980 collection The Shameless Hussy won the American Book Award in 1981. She is featured in the feminist history film She's Beautiful When She's Angry.
Camille A. Brown is a dancer, choreographer, director and dance educator. She is the Founder & Artistic Director of Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and has congruently choreographed commissioned pieces for dance companies, Broadway shows, and universities. Brown started her career as a dancer in Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company, and was a guest artist with Rennie Harris Puremovement, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Brown has choreographed major Broadway shows such as Choir Boy, Once on This Island and Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert! that aired on NBC. Brown also teaches dance and gives lectures to audiences at various universities such as Long Island University, Barnard College and ACDFA, among others.
A choreopoem is a form of dramatic expression that combines poetry, dance, music, and song. The term was first coined in 1975 by American writer Ntozake Shange in a description of her work, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Shange's attempt to depart from traditional western poetry and storytelling resulted in a new art form that doesn't contain specific plot elements or characters, but instead focuses on creating an emotional response from the audience. In Shange's work, nontraditional spelling and African American Vernacular English are aspects of this genre that differ from traditional American literature. She emphasizes the importance of movement and nonverbal communication throughout the choreopoem so that it is able to function as a theatrical piece rather than being limited to poetry or dance.
Bisa Williams is an American diplomat. She is the former Ambassador from the United States of America to the Republic of Niger in Niamey. She assumed the post on October 29, 2010. She left her post in 2013.
Jamara Mychelle Wakefield is an American spoken word poet, community organizer and writer, previously known by her stage name London Bridgez. She founded Neo.logic Beatnik Assembly, an idea shop and creative arts production company, and organized the TEDxRoxburyWomen event featured on Basic Black, a TEDTalks event in Boston.
Thulani Davis is an American playwright, journalist, librettist, novelist, poet, and screenwriter. She is a graduate of Barnard College and attended graduate school at both the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.
spell #7, or spell #7: geechee jibara quik magic trance manual for technologically stressed third world people, is a choreopoem written for the stage by Ntozake Shange and first performed in 1979.
nappy edges is a collection of poetry and prose poetry written by Ntozake Shange and first published by St. Martin's Press in 1978. The poems, which vary in voice and style, explore themes of love, racism, sexism, and loneliness. Shange's third book of poetry, nappy edges, was met with positive reviews and praise from critics, like Holly Prado of the Los Angeles Times who said of it that "this collection of poems, prose poems and poetic essays merges personal passion and heightened language."
Dianne McIntyre is an American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Her notable works include Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Dance Adventure in Southern Blues , an adaptation of Zora Neal Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, as well as productions of why i had to dance,spell #7, and for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, with text by Ntozake Shange. She has won numerous honors for her work including an Emmy nomination, three Bessie Awards, and a Helen Hayes Award. She is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and the Dramatists Guild of America.
lost in language & sound: or how i found my way to the arts: essays (2011) is a collection of 25 personal essays written by Ntozake Shange. Explored in the collection are topics such as racism, sexism, jazz, dance, and writing. The essays function as autobiography, music and literary criticism, and social critique. While some pieces were written specifically for the collection, many were written over the span of over 30 years.
Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo is a 1982 novel written by Ntozake Shange and first published by St. Martin's Press. The novel, which took eight years to complete, is a story of three Black sisters, whose names give the book its title, and their mother. The family is based in Charleston, South Carolina, and their trade is to spin, weave, and dye cloth; unsurprisingly, this tactile creativity informs the lives of the main characters as well as the style of the writing. Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo integrates the whole of an earlier work by Shange called simply Sassafrass, published in 1977 by Shameless Hussy Press. As is common in Shange's work, the narrative is peppered with interludes that come in the form of letters, recipes, dream stories and journal entries, which provide a more intimate approach to each woman's journey toward self-realization and fulfillment. The book deals with several major themes, including Gullah/Geechee culture, women in the arts, the Black Arts Movement, and spirituality, among many others.
Judy Dearing was an American costume designer, dancer, and choreographer. She is most well known for designing costumes for a wide range of theater and musical productions, including Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize winning drama "A Soldier's Play" and the 1976 stage adaptation of Ntozake Shange's book, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.
Laurie Dorothea Carlos was an American actress and avant-garde performance artist, playwright and theater director. She was also known for her work mentoring emerging artists in the theater.
The New Federal Theatre is a theatre company named after the African-American branch of the Federal Theatre Project, which was created in the United States during the Great Depression to provide resources for theatre and other artistic programs. The company has operated out of a few different locations on Henry Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Since 1970 The New Federal Theatre has provided its community with a stage and collection of talented performers to express the voices of numerous African-America playwrights. New Federal Theatre boasts nationally known playwrights such as Ron Milner (Checkmates), Ed Bullins, and Ntozake Shange as well as actors including Jackée Harry, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Dick Anthony Williams, Glynn Turman, Taurean Blacque, Samuel L. Jackson, and Laurence Fishburne.
Ifa Bayeza is a playwright, producer, and conceptual theater artist. She wrote the play The Ballad of Emmett Till, which earned her the Edgar Award for Best Play in 2009. She is the sister of Ntozake Shange, and directed Shange's A Photograph: Lovers in Motion, which was a part of the Negro Ensemble Company's 2015 Year of the Woman Play Reading Series in New York City.
Margaret Rose Vendryes was a visual artist, curator, and art historian based in New York.
Aku Kadogo, born Karen Vest, is a choreographer, director, actress, and educator. She was one of the original cast members of Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976), and acted in the 1990s Australian children's television series Lift Off. She has educated and performed in Australia, Senegal, Cuba, Brazil, and Hong Kong, and South Korea.