Ntozake Shange

6 years ago

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Like a lot of people, my first encounter with Ntozake Shange was through her play For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. I read it in the 80's and immediately went looking for more of Shange's work. Unfortunately, my small library had no other books available. Several years passed before I stumbled across another of her books in a bookstore -- nappy edges was a wonderful book of Shange's poetry, and I was hooked again.

Image: ©EFE/ZUMA Press

Ntozake Shange was born in 1948 and named Paulette L. Williams. Her father was an Air Force doctor and her mother a social worker. Shange shares memories of growing up in St. Louis.

She was married during her first year of college, but the marriage did not last. After separating from her husband, she was severely depressed and attempted suicide. In 1971, after coming to terms with her depression and suicide attempts, she changed her name to Ntozake (which means she who has her own things) Shange (meaning she who walks/lives with lions). A few years later, she moved to New York and her play, For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, was produced.

I didn't see the film adaptation, For Colored Girls, because the original was so amazing to me that I didn't want it changed, in any way, by Tyler Perry's updated version. I didn't trust that the movie would move me the way reading the poems did.

From For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf:

I’m not going to be nice. I will raise my voice & scream and holler & break things & race the engine & tell all your secrets bout yrself to yr face

In 2004, Shange suffered a series of strokes - she could not walk, write, talk, read. In this video, she speaks openly about her struggles with depression, suicide and recovery from those strokes. (The audio quality in this video is not great but I found it worth listening to.) She also talks about her recovery from those strokes in this interview with Harriette Cole from The Root.

Her recent book, Some Sing, Some Cry, is a novel that features seven generations of an African-American family. It's a long, beautifully written story made more interesting to me because it was written with Ifa Bayeza, Shange's sister, over a 15 year time period. I expected to be able to tell which sections were written by Bayeza and which were written by Shange, or to at least notice the movement from one author's voice to another. But their collaboration was flawless (or they had an amazing editor), and I could not tell which sections were written by which sister.

"Never go backward. Always be movin', movin' forward. Life is in front of me, not behind." -From Some Sing, Some Cry

I am not sure this particular piece of Some Sing, Some Cry was written by Ntozake Shange, but it sure feels like it to me.

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