She Who Comes into Her Own Things: In Loving Memory of Ntozake Shange
Born Paulette Williams on October 18, 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey, Ntozake Shange bore the weight of Black Women’s emotions on the shoulders of her career and created an opening for African American Women to see themselves in theatre. She received her BA in American Studies from Barnard College in 1970, following it with an MA in American studies from the University of Southern California in LA. It was during her graduate studies she changed her name to Ntozake meaning “she who comes into her own things” Shange, meaning “she who walks like a lion” in the Zulu dialect Xhosa. It was in college Shange began struggling with depression and attempted suicide. These experiences would become large influences on her work.
After graduating college she learned to manage her depression and define and embrace her identity as an African American Woman. She truly came into her own with the publication of her most popular work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is enuf in 1977. This “choreopoem”, turned play explores the raw emotion associated with being Black and a woman in America. She highlights the struggles and relationships of life in vivid prose and choreography that’s comforting in its familiarity. The play won an Obie Award and received an Emmy, Tony, and Grammy nomination. It has influenced generations of Black Women who continue to see themselves in various stages womanhood through Shange’s words.
After the success of For Colored Girls, Shange recieved unexpected criticism from Black Men who felt personally attacked by her work. She later wrote, “There was quite a ruckus about the seven ladies in their simple colored dresses, 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.”
Unfortunately, on October 27, 2018 we lost this legendary feminist voice, playwright, novelist, poet, performance artist and icon. She is survived by one daughter Savannah Shange, and a lifetime of work that continues to create safe spaces for Black Women.