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Ntozake Shange, Black Feminist Poet and “For Colored Girls” dramatist & # 39; dies at 70

Ntozake Shange, a black feminist poet and dramatist who brushed linguistic conventions, rage barriers and criticism from her male comrades…

Ntozake Shange, a black feminist poet and dramatist who brushed linguistic conventions, rage barriers and criticism from her male comrades to compose works of bracing honesty and searing beauty – especially her 1976 debut, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf “- died October 27th in an assisted accommodation in Bowie, Md. She was 70 years old.

Her daughter Savannah Shange, an anthropology professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz, confirmed death but did not give a cause. Ms. Shange had several strokes in 2004. In recent years, she suffered from a neurological disease called CIDP, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, which prevented her from writing or using a pen and forced her to write with voice recognition software on her laptop.

Growth in segregated St. Louis, where she was one of the first black children to integrate into the city’s white white public schools, Ms Shange grew up in the political fermentation of civil rights movement and was a teenager when the Black Arts Movement struck the mid-1

960s. As author Amiri Baraka published works dealing with racism, oppression and liberation, Ms. Shange feels that the black women’s voices were missing from the choir.

“There was nothing to strive for, no one to honor,” she once said about the town’s voice, reminding a childhood filled with few strong black female characters. “Sojourner Truth was not a big enough model for me. I could not go around to abolish slavery.”

In nearly 50, novels, children’s books and poetry and essay collections, Mrs Shange continued to establish itself as one of the most remarkable voices in American letters, a stylistic innovator as mixed shapes and genres to address themes about women’s empowerment, the inequality of the race, household abuse, abandonment and self-respect.


Ms. Shange, left and her sister Ifa Bayeza, with which she wrote the novel “Some Sing, Some Cry.” (Michael S. Williamson / Washington Post)

Born Paulette Linda Williams, she adopted a Zulu name in the early 1970s by choosing Ntozake (one to ZAH key), meaning “she who comes with his own things “and Shange (SHAHN-gay), meaning” who walks like a lion “before landing in New York with an early, highly improvised version of” For Colored Girls. “

Inspired by the works of the lesbian poet Judy Grahn, the writing was written as a “choreographer”, monologues and modern dance to a jazz soundtrack. Its characters were referenced only to the colors they had on the scene – red, blue, purple, yellow, brown, green and orange – and recited monologues in verse, discussed abortions, failed relationships, lost children and wasted [19659009] “I found God in myself,” explains Lady in Red in one of the most memorable lines of the game, made in Ms Shange’s nonstandard spelling and capitalization “& I loved her / I loved her sharply. “Another character shouts:” I will raise my voice / & scream & holler / & break things and compete the engine / & tell all the professional secrets about oneself. “

” For Colored Girls, “the other was played by an African-American woman to appear on Broadway after Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”.

“Black sisterhood. That’s what Ntozake Shange is absolutely extraordinary and wonderful evening … is about”, wrote the New York Times theater critic Clive Barnes. “It has the insights into life and living that make the theater an incredible market for the soul. And simply because it’s about black women – not just black and not just women – it’s a very humble but inspiring thing for a white man to experience. “

The game” rocked the socio / cultural moment “, says author Marita Golden, who founded Hurston / Wright Foundation, a black writer resource center honoring Ms Shange with her career achievement one week before her death.

Ms. Shange, she stated in an email, “that her black women could undoubtedly talk about relationships with black men in a way that was particularly deadly” at a time when writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Gloria Naylor told similar stories about African-American women.

Perhaps, as a result, Ms Shange was plagued by some African-American critics and writers, including Baraka and Ishmael Reed, who claimed that her work radiated black men like violent, unfaithful women. In a scene – stretched from real life, Mrs. Shange’s friend said Thulani Davis, a writer and African American graduate education – a woman is threatened by her boyfriend who lets her children out of a window.

“These scenes were familiar to the audience,” said Davis, who helped Ms. Shange to collect and order the game’s monologues. “She opened something that women could experience suddenly collectively in the theater. Suddenly there is a room full of people who understand what you’ve never told anyone about trauma you’ve experienced.”

The eldest of four children, Mrs Shange was born in Trenton, NJ, in October. 18, 1948. Her father was a surgeon and her mother was a psychiatric social worker; Both were politically active and mixed with a crowd that included musicians Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as the author W.E.B. Du Bois.

She lived in St. Louis and then in Trenton before graduating from Barnard College in Manhattan in 1970. By that time, she married and separated from her first husband, a law student, and attempted suicide several times. She had also begun to find her voice as a poet, according to Davis, a Barnard classmate who said they performed each other after receiving advice from members of the last poets, an early hip hop group.

Ms. Shange received a master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Southern California in 1973 and settled in New York two years later, along with a friend, choreographer Paula Moss, who created the dances for an early version of “For Colored Girls.” [19659019] Their production of work, on venues including the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, drew attention to Woodie King Jr., a producer who helped Polish verses to a game. It received an Obie Award and a Tony Award nomination for best game. During the first three weeks of Broadway, Ms Shange was presented as Lady in Orange.

The game was adapted to a movie from 2010 by director Tyler Perry, with Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Janet Jackson. 19659021] In the aftermath of “For Colored Girls,” Ms Shange said she was struggling with addiction, bipolar disorder and eventually physical illness. Still, she continued to write, wrecking theater works that featured “Spell No. 7” (1979), which featured black actors who discussed the indignities of working in a white-dominated industry and “Lost in Language and Sound: Or How I Found My Way to Art “(2013), an autobiographical piece she described as a” choreoessay “.

As a writer, Ms. Shange was famous for a style that imitated natural speech using slashes, unusual spellings and abbreviations to “mirror languages ​​as I hear it.” Her books included the novel “Some Sing, Some Cry” (2010), written with her sister Ifa Bayeza, about seven generations of a fictional African American family; and the poetry collection “Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems” (2017), which included Spanish-language translations that Ms Shange ordered to reach readers in Latin America.

She taught at several universities and also received a Guggenheim community honored, including a Pushcart award.

Her marriage to the artist McArthur Binion and jazz musician David Murray ended in divorce. In addition to her daughter, from her marriage to Binion, survivors contain two sisters; a brother; and a grandson.

In interviews, Ms Shange often said that she was trying to build a heritage where black culture was memorialized and preserved. When asked if the poet could do that, she was stuck.

“You must continue to act as if it is enough,” she told some friends 2013, according to the New York Times. “You must continue to confirm it and take it to you. You must keep hoping it will move in the mountain.”

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