I don’t believe any black girl can graduate to womanhood without knowing about, seeing, and understanding Ms. Ntozake Shange’s Choreopoem “For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf.”
Ntozake Sahnge- Poet, author, and playwright Paulette Williams was born in Trenton, New Jersey on October 18, 1948. Her parents, Paul and Eloise Williams, and their four children , the eldest being Paulette, were an upper-middle class family. Paul Williams was an Air Force surgeon and his wife worked as an educator and a psychiatric social worker. As an artistic and cultured family, the Williams’ enjoyed visits from friends such as Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, and W. E. B. Dubois.
Although the family maintained a richly intellectual home environment, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision created a racially segregated school system for the children. When she moved to St. Louis with her family in 1956, Paulette Williams, eight years old, attended a German-American school where, despite the integrated school system, she encountered racism.
For five years, she lived in St. Louis and absorbed the city’s diverse art, music, dance, literature, and opera. She returned to New Jersey in 1961 to complete high school. A year after entering Barnard College at age eighteen, Williams survived a trail of personal battles after separating from her husband, a law student. Her depression affected her so deeply that many attempts at suicide followed the relationship’s failure. Despite her drinking chemicals, slashed wrists, Valium overdose, and, ultimately, driving her Volvo into the Pacific Ocean, Williams graduated cum laude with a B.A. in American Studies from Barnard in 1970 and in 1971, took a name to reflect her power to achieve. Translated into English from Xhosa, the Zulu language, Ntozake Shange means “she who comes with her own things and walks like a lion.”
She received her master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1973. While living in California, Shange studied Afrikan- American Dance and performed with the following dance companies: Third World Collective, Raymond Sawyer’s Afrikan- American Dance Company, Sounds in Motion, and West Coast Dance Works. Shange also had her own company named For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide.
She taught humanities, women’s studies, and Afro- American studies in California at Sonoma State College, Mills College in Oakland, and the University of California Extension. Shange’s interaction with other artists and teachers in the San Francisco area led to her collaboration with Paula Moss on for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf. The play’s success in its early stages enabled Shange and Moss to perform “for colored girls…” in New York and on television. “for colored girls…” was nominated for Tony, Emmy, and Grammy awards in 1977.
For Colored Girls “Dark Phrases” [Pt. 1 of 19]
I found God in myself: The 40th Anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls
On September 19, 2014, the Schomburg Library will begin an exhibition celebrating the 4oth anniversary of “For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.” The exhibit will run through January 3, 2015
Ntozake Shange’s Choreopoem: Reinventing a Heritage of Poetry and Dance