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Ntozake Shange

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 regularly hosted artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Robeson, and W.E.B. DuBois at their home. Shange graduated cum laude with her B.S. degree in American Studies from Barnard College in New York City in 1970. 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, she adopted her new name, Ntozake, meaning “she who comes with her own things,” and Shange, meaning “she who walks like a lion,” from the Xhosa dialect of Zulu. She graduated from the University of Southern California in 1973.

Upon joining Malifu Osumare’s dance company, Shange met Paula Moss, and their subsequent collaborations led to the invention of Shange’s work, the choreopoem 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, moving to the Anspacher Public Theatre in 1976. After premiering on Broadway at the Booth Theatre later that same year, the play went on to win the Obie Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the AUDELCO Award. Originally conceived as a choreopoem, it has been published in book form, and adapted into a stage play. In 2010, Tyler Perry wrote, produced and directed the film adaptation, For Colored Girls, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, and Loretta Devine.

In 1978, Shange released 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 released 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 also appeared in The Black Scholar, Yardbird, Ms., Essence magazine, The Chicago Tribune, VIBE, and Third-World Women. In addition to poetry, novels, essays, and screenplays, Shange published four books for children: Whitewash (1997); the tribute to Muhammad Ali, Float Like a Butterfly (2002); Ellington Was Not a Street (2003); Daddy Says (2003); and Coretta Scott (2009). She also served on the faculty of the Department of Drama at the University of Houston.

An Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award nominee, Shange 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. She was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Shange passed away on October 27, 2018.

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

Accession Number

A2016.042

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/12/2016

02/01/2017

Last Name

Shange

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Barnard College

University of Southern California

Clark Elementary School

Trenton Central High School

Boston University

Dewey International Studies Elementary School

Lone Mountain College

First Name

Ntozake

Birth City, State, Country

Trenton

HM ID

SHA09

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New Jersey

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bermuda

Favorite Quote

Not My Will But Thy Will Expressed Through Me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

10/18/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Seafood Gumbo

Death Date

10/27/2018

Short Description

Playwright and author Ntozake Shange (1948 - 2018) wrote the award-winning Broadway play and choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, which was published in book form, and adapted into a 2010 film.

Employment

The Evolution of Black Dance Troupe

Trenton State College

Sonoma State College

UC Berkeley Extension

Favorite Color

Blue

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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659855">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ntozake Shange's interview, session 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659856">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659857">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange describes her mother's family background, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659858">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange describes her mother's family background, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659859">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange talks about her mother's education and profession</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659860">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange describes her father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659861">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange talks about her father's education and profession</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659862">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ntozake Shange describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659863">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ntozake Shange lists her siblings, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659864">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ntozake Shange lists her siblings, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659865">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659866">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange describes her early education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659867">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange recalls her parents' celebrity guests</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659868">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange remembers watching the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659869">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange describes her early experiences of religion</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659870">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange recalls her early exposure to literature and film</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659871">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ntozake Shange remembers her first two poems</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659872">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ntozake Shange remembers reading African American periodicals</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659873">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange describes her experiences of racial discrimination at Trenton Central High School in Trenton, New Jersey</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659874">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange describes her decision to attend Barnard College in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659875">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange talks about her involvement with the Black Power movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659876">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange describes her experiences at Barnard College in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659877">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange talks about editing the Phat Mama literary magazine</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659878">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange recalls her abortion and first marriage</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659879">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ntozake Shange recalls the strike at Columbia University in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659880">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange recalls her professors at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659881">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange talks about her decision to leave graduate school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659882">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange recalls the start of her writing career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659883">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange remembers her aspiration to dance with the Sun Ra Arkestra</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659884">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange recalls starting to write 'For Colored Girls'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659885">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange remembers the rehearsals for the first production of 'For Colored Girls'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659886">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ntozake Shange explains the meaning of the title of 'For Colored Girls'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659887">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ntozake Shange remembers bringing 'For Colored Girls' to New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659888">Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ntozake Shange talks about the first performances of 'For Colored Girls' in New York City</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659889">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Slating of Ntozake Shange's interview, session 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659890">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange talks about the negative critical responses to 'For Colored Girls'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659891">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange talks about the adaptations of 'For Colored Girls'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659892">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange talks about Tyler Perry's film, 'For Colored Girls'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659893">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange talks about her work after 'For Colored Girls'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659894">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange talks about experiences of bipolar disorder and neuropathy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659895">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange talks about her struggle with bipolar disorder</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659896">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ntozake Shange describes her writing process</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659897">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ntozake Shange talks about her current writing project</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659898">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ntozake Shange talks about her theatrical works</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659899">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange describes the plot of 'Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659900">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange talks about the critical reception of her works</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659901">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange talks about her novel, 'Betsey Brown'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659902">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange describes the plot of her novel, 'Liliane'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659903">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange talks about writing a novel with her sister, Ifa Bayeza</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659904">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange talks about her books for children</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659905">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ntozake Shange talks about her inspiration</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659906">Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ntozake Shange talks about the lynching of the Newberry Six</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659907">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ntozake Shange remembers the African American literature courses she taught</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659908">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange shares her advice to aspiring poets and writers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659909">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange lists her favorite poets</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659910">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange reflects upon her body of work</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659911">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659912">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange reflects upon the status of women today</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659913">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange shares her advice for black women</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659914">Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ntozake Shange reflects upon the state of African American art</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659915">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ntozake Shange recites her poem 'Ode to Orlando'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659916">Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ntozake Shange recites poetry from her collection, 'Wild Beauty'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659917">Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Ntozake Shange talks about her family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659918">Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Ntozake Shange describes her parents' thoughts on her career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659919">Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Ntozake Shange talks about her musical accompanists</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659920">Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Ntozake Shange talks about her plans for the future</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/659921">Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Ntozake Shange reflects upon her legacy</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$2

DAStory

10$8

DATitle
Ntozake Shange talks about the first performances of 'For Colored Girls' in New York City
Ntozake Shange remembers her first two poems
Transcript
And then I ran into my sister who--the playwright who always inspired me, Ifa. And Ifa said, "What you have here is theater Ntozake [HistoryMaker Ntozake Shange]. You don't need to do this in cafes anymore, you can do this in a theater." And I said, "Well, I'm happy doing it in cafes, I don't need to make it theater and do the same thing every night. When you do theater, you have to do the same poems every night. And doing what I do, I can change the poems every night. And we still have 'For Colored Girls' ['For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf,' Ntozake Shange] because it becomes whatever poem I put in there." And she said, "No, no, no. You don't understand. Theater is alive. You can find actors who can make it different every night." And I very reluctantly entertained these actresses that my sister Ifa Bayeza, and [HistoryMaker] Oz Scott, my director, discovered in New York [New York]. And that's how we got Trazana Beverley and Laurie Carlos. And we kept Paula [Paula Moss] as a speaker as Lady in Green. And Paula had a verbal role which she had never had before. And I had two pieces that I did. We got Janet League and Rise Collins and Aku Kadogo and I think that's all there were. I don't think I'm leaving anybody out. And Oz arranged for us to perform--or I arranged for us to perform down the street from the Old Reliable [Old Reliable Theatre Tavern, New York, New York] where we had been working, where they had no running water and no heat And we were having practicing down there. And then Oz found us rehearsal space at New York University's theater school at the Tisch School of Art [Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, New York, New York]. And they had empty rehearsal rooms sometimes. So we would be in from seven to eleven [o'clock] or from seven to one, or from eleven 'til dawn. And then we would go to our day jobs and we would finish rehearsal. For free we did this. And then we did to DeMonte's Cafe [New York, New York] on 3rd Street and the Old Reliable was on 3rd Street between C [Avenue C] and D [Avenue D]. But DeMonte's was on 3rd Street between B [Avenue B] and C. So we were moving up as we went along, up the Lower East Side [New York, New York] (laughter). And we felt very accomplished because at DeMonte's, they not only served food, they served drinks. And, and people could come and sit down. So my parents [Eloise Owens Williams and Paul T. Williams] in their mink coats came to the Lower East Side to DeMonte's Cafe to see my show that my sister was very involved with as a dramaturge and assistant director. And she also did the set, the original flower that Ming Cho Lee won a Tony [Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre] for. And we performed it and Woodie King [HistoryMaker Woodie King, Jr.] came to DeMonte's to see it and said that we could do it at Henry Street. So we were very excited about that because we had a theater engagement, and I had been convinced that it was okay to let other people read my poems because I was so used to reading them all myself, that it was very hard for me to let other people have them. Even though I saw they brought different life to them. I still had to transition from ownership to sharing. And so we performed for Woodie King at Henry Street, and there were lines that went around the corner. And it was just word of mouth that people were coming to see it with. And we did a, a workshop of 'For Colored Girls' at Henry Street. And a lot of stuff we did at Henry Street, we lost when we went to The Public Theater [New York, New York]. We had to do a, an audition performance for Joseph Papp in the little theater where the movie theater is now at The Public. It used to be a rehearsal room and, and, and small theater. And we performed in there. And Joe picked us up. He picked up the show. But we made a lot of changes.$$Okay. Let me just--we have to stop here, but just wanted to point out the Henry Street you were referring to is the New Federal Theatre [New York, New York].$$Yes.$$Woodie King's New Federal Theatre (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yes.$$--and the Henry Street Settlement House [Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York].$$But we didn't do the New Federal, we did the Henry Street auditorium.$Did you start writing, when did you start writing creatively (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well it was really funny. I wrote a poem in high school [Trenton Central High School, Trenton, New Jersey], just one about Vietnam [Vietnam War]. And it was about a picture I had seen in The New York Times of a little Vietnamese girl whose clothes were tattered and everything around her was burned down from Agent Orange. So there was just this black starkness behind her. These stripped trees, and a little white doll with its head off. And the poem I wrote was about the state of the girl and the head off of the white dolly. And how painful that image was to me. That's what the poem was about. And it was--they published it in the literary magazine at my school, at my high school. And then I didn't write another poem 'til I was at Barnard [Barnard College, New York, New York] and I was sitting on a terrace and this white girl came up to me thinking I was Thulani Davis. She came up to me and said my poem was due in by five o'clock. And so I went home and wrote a poem and turned it in by five o'clock. And that's how I started writing and the literary magazine ended up publishing two black girls instead of one because Thulani Davis published her poem, she got hers in by five too (laughter).$$Now that's funny. We're gonna pause here again. That, that's funny.