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Home | ArtMakers | Ntozake Shange
Color: Blue
Food: Seafood Gumbo
Quote: Not My Will But Thy Will Expressed Through Me.
Season: Spring
Vacation Destination: Bermuda
Trenton, New Jersey United States
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 9/12/2016 |and| 02/01/2017

Playwright and author Ntozake Shange was born Paulette L. Williams on October 18, 1948, in Trenton, New Jersey to Paul T. Williams, an air force surgeon, and Eloise Williams, an educator and psychiatric social worker. Her family hosted artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Robeson, and W.E.B. DuBois regularly at their home. At eight years old, Shange moved with her family to the segregated city of St. Louis, Missouri and was bused to a non-segregated school, where she endured overt racism. Shange graduated cum laude from Barnard College in New York, New York with her B.S. degree in American Studies. While pursuing her M.A. degree in American Studies from the University of Southern California, Shange began to associate with feminist writers, poets and performers. In 1971, after a bout of depression, she adopted her new name, Ntozake, meaning “she who comes into her own things,” and Shange, meaning “she who walks with lions,” from the Xhosa dialect of Zulu. She graduated from the University of Southern California in 1973.

Shange taught humanities and began performing in San Francisco, California. Upon joining Malifu Osumare’s dance company, she encountered Paula Moss, and their collaborations led to the invention of the choreopoem and Shange’s politically and formally groundbreaking first work, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. The work was initially produced off-Broadway in 1975 at the New Federal Theatre in New York City, moved to the Anspacher Public Theatre in 1976, and that same year was produced on Broadway at the Booth Theatre. The play won the Obie Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the AUDELCO Award. Originally conceived as a choreopoem, it has been made into a stage play, published in book form, and in 2010, adapted into a film.

In 1978, Shange published Nappy Edges, a collection of fifty poems celebrating the voices of defiantly independent women. In 1979, she produced the Three Pieces trilogy of choreopoems, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In 1982, Shange published her first novel, Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo, which she followed with Betsy Brown in 1985 and Liliane: Resurrection of the Daughter in 1994. Shange’s work has appeared in The Black Scholar, Yardbird, Ms. , Essence magazine, The Chicago Tribune, VIBE, and Third-World Women. She served on faculty in the Department of Drama at the University of Houston.

Shange was an Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award nominee. She received an NDEA fellowship in 1974, two Obie Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1981, the Paul Robeson Achievement Award in 1992, the Living Legend Award from the National Black Theatre Festival in 1993, and was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Shange lives in Bowie, Maryland.

Ntozake Shange was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 12, 2016 and February 1, 2017.

Speaker Bureau Notes: