[Blackstudies-l] Ntozake Shange obituary

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Mon Oct 29 05:33:50 EDT 2018


Ntozake Shange, Who Wrote ‘For Colored Girls,’ Is Dead at 70
Image
Ntozake Shange, right, in her play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered
Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” which was nominated for a Tony Award in
1977.CreditCreditBettmann/Getty Images
By Laura Collins-Hughes <https://www.nytimes.com/by/laura-collins-hughes>

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Ntozake Shange, a spoken-word artist who morphed into a playwright with her
canonical play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the
Rainbow is Enuf,” died on Saturday in Bowie, Md. She was 70.
Her death was confirmed by her sister Ifa Bayeza, who said she had been in
fragile health since a pair of strokes more than a decade ago.
Only 27 years old when “For Colored Girls” opened at the Booth Theater in
1976, Ms. Shange was a Broadway rarity on two counts: She was black and she
was a woman. But her unconventional play was a hit and nominated for a Tony
Award. A series of searing feminist monologues for seven black female
characters named for the colors of the rainbow — Ms. Shange herself played
the Lady in Orange — it inspired generations of playwrights coming up
behind her.
Among them was the Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, who in an
interview on Sunday spoke fondly of encountering Ms. Shange in September at
the Park Avenue Armory, at a brunch for playwrights.
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“I saw Ntozake enter the room,” Ms. Parks said, “and I stood up, and the
younger playwrights said, ‘What’s the matter? Why are you standing?’ And I
said, ‘The queen has just entered the room.’ ”
In her work, Ms. Shange was a champion of black women and girls, and in her
trailblazing, she expanded the sense of what was possible for other black
female artists.
When Ms. Shange (her full name is pronounced en-toh-ZAH-kee SHAHN-gay)
first arrived in the American theater, though, the response was not
uniformly reverent. “For Colored Girls” won admiring reviews and an Obie
Award for a production at the Public Theater, before it moved to Broadway.
But the play’s forthright, personal discussion of trauma and abuse
experienced by black women was taken by some as an affront to black men.
Image
Ms. Shange in 1977 in a production of “Where the Mississippi Meets the
Amazon.” She wrote the play with Jessica Hagedorn and Thuiani Nkabinde, who
also performed it with her.CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
“There was quite a ruckus about the seven ladies in their simple colored
dresses,” Ms. Shange wrote decades later. “I was truly dumbfounded that I
was right then and there deemed the biggest threat to black men since
cotton pickin’, and not all women were in my corner, either.”
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Born Paulette Williams on Oct. 18, 1948, in Trenton, she was the daughter
of Dr. Paul T. Williams, a surgeon, and Eloise Owens Williams, a professor
of social work. She adopted a Zulu name as a young woman.
She was a graduate of Trenton High School, Barnard College and the
University of Southern California, where she earned a master’s degree in
American studies.
Her family said she had been affected deeply by the civil rights movement
and had later participated in the antiwar movement and efforts to advance
the rights of women, Puerto Ricans and black artists.
A novelist and poet who was unable to hold a pen for several years after
suffering strokes, Ms. Shange had recently been giving poetry readings
again, and she was working on a new book about dance. She had been pushing
herself hard, though, and the activity depleted her, Ms. Bayeza said in a
phone interview.
“The intensity with which she embraced life took its toll on her body,” Ms.
Bayeza said. “The vulnerability that she was so willing to share with the
world was still a vulnerability.”
Ms. Shange, whose adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her
Children” won an Obie citation, was the author of 15 plays, 19 poetry
collections, six novels five children’s books and three essay collections.
One of her novels, “Some Sing, Some Cry,” was written with Ms. Bayeza and
told the history of African-American music and dance through seven
generations of a fictional family.
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It is an oeuvre all the more remarkable given what her family described as
Ms. Shange’s struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction.
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