Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf: A Choreo-Poem, with its spectrum of revelatory voices exploring a black woman’s experience, changed the face of American theater forever. She writes, “I wuz cold / I wuz burnin up / a child and endlessly weaving garments / for the moon with my tears / I found god in myself / and I loved her / I loved her fiercely”. Her volumes of poetry include Nappy Edges, A Daughter’s Geography, Ridin’ the Moon in Texas, From Okra to Greens, and The Loved Space Demands: A Continuing Saga. In addition, Shange has written a novel: Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo; and a children’s book, I Live in Music. Shange’s columns regularly appear in Philadelphia’s Real News, and her articles and poetry may be found in Uncut Funk, Callaloo, Muleteeth, and Essence. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, The Medal of Excellence from Columbia University, and the Distinguished Medal of Literature from Barnard College. She was also Heavyweight Poetry Champion of the World from 1992 to 1994.

Shange’s work provides a sense of immediate contact with a volatile and expressive set of emotions. In both poetry and prose, she makes us creatively rethink the dangers that face our contemporary world. The Houston Chronicle has called her “a poet who knows how to loosen the structures, to give form to the warm exudates of the black self and the pain and joy of the black heritage, and to chart the rushing waters of the old and new rivers confluent at the mouth of the present.” Shange’s poetry is a colorful new spectrum of warm, sensuous voices.” Shange has taught at Sonoma State College, Mills College, and University of California Extension, and tours as a performance poet.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 1999

resurrection of the daughter

the family had been ill for some time
quarantined/ socially restricted
to bridge & Sunday brunch by the pool
the mother called her daughters twice a day
she saved the son for emergencies
the father drove around a lot
there were no visible scars
under the daughters’ biba eyes
lay pain like rachel’s/ the rage of zelda
delavallades’ pirouettes in stasis
the daughters cd set a formal table
curtseys if no descendants of slaves
& speak english with no accent at all
they were virgins for a long time
one waz on punishment for a month
cuz she closed her eyes while dancin on the wrong
side of town
mama who came from there/ knew too well
a cheap pleasure cd spell remorse
for an upwardly mobile girl
& the girl learned well/ she paid for her
lovers with her suffering
never knowing some love is due you
she waved her tears in her lover’s face
the more there were/ the more they were worth
the son looked down on these things
his women did his laundry & his cooking
but they were not crying
the father waz also not crying he waz with ulcers
& waited on the cliffs
where his daughters’ lovers prayed for his demise
dyin to be the heads of a sick household
the lovers o the daughters wrought pain
deception & fear wherever they turned
& the son dept his distance
the mother called him in emergencies/ occurred all the time
the daughters believed they were ugly dumb & dark
like hades/like mud/ like beetles/ & filth

the mother washed all the time & kept her kitchen
the father wore perfumes/ thot sex a personal decision

a daughter convinced her beauty an aberration
her love a fungus/ her womb a fantasy
loft eh asylum of her home on a hinch
she wd find someone who cd survive tenderness
she wd feed someone who waz in need of her fruits
she wd gather herself an eldorado of her own makin
a space/ empty of envy/ of hate
she a daughter refused to answer her mother’s calls
she refused to believe in the enmity of her sisters
the brother waz callt to see to the emergency
the father bought a new stereo
& she was last seen in the arms of herself
having come to herself
in the heat of herself

daughters wait for the wounded to scream themselves
to death
daughters choosin to be women
lick their wounds with their own spit
til they heal

From NAPPY EDGES (St. Martin’s Press, 1972)

senses of heritage

my grandpa waz a doughboy from carolina
the other a garveyite from lakewood
I got talked to abt the race & achievement
bout color & propriety/
nobody spoke to me about the moon

daddy talked abt music & mama bout christians
my sisters/ we
always talked & talked
there waz never quiet
trees were status symbols

I’ve taken to fog/
the moon still surprisin me

From NAPPY EDGES (St. Martin’s Press, 1972)

Bocas: A Daughter’s Geography

i have a daughter/ mozambique
i have a son/ angola
our twins
salvador & johannesburg/ cannot speak
the same language
but we fight the same old men/ in the new world

we are so hungry for the morning
we’re trying to feed our children the sun
but a long time ago/ we boarded ships/ locked in
depths of seas our spirits/ kisst the earth
on the atlantic side of nicaragua costa rica
our lips traced the edges of cuba puerto rico
charleston & savannah/ in haiti
we embraced &
made children of the new world
but old men spit on us/ shackled our limbs
but for a minute
our cries are the panama canal/ the yucatan
we poured thru more sea/ more ships/ to manila
ah ha we’re back again
everybody in manila awready speaks spanish

the old men sent for the archbishop of canterbury
“can whole continents be excommunicated?”
“what wd happen to the children?”
“wd their allegiance slip over the edge?”
“don’t worry bout lumumba/ don’t even think bout
ho chi minh/ the dead cant procreate”
so say the old men
but I have a daughter/ la habana
I have a son/ guyana
our twins
santiago & brixton/ cannot speak
the same language
yet we fight the same old men

the ones who think helicopters rhyme with hunger
who think patrol boats can confiscate a people
the ones whose dreams are full of none of our
the see mae west & harlow in whittled white cafes
near managua/ listening to primitive rhythms in
jungles near pétionville
with bejeweled benign nativess
ice skating in abidjan
unaware of the rest of us in chicago
all the dark urchins
rounding out the globe/ primitively whispering
the earth is not flat old men

there is no edge
no end to the new world
cuz I have a daughter/ trinidad
I have a son/ san juan
our twins
capetown & palestine/ cannot speak the same
language/ but we fight the same old men
the same men who thought the earth waz flat
go on over the edge/ go on over the edge old men
you’ll see us in luanda, or the rest of us
in chicago
rounding out the morning/
we are feeding our children the sun

From A DAUGHTER’S GEOGRAPHY (St. Martin’s Press, 1983)