This week’s open threads have been dedicated to African-American Poets.
Ntozake Shange born October 18, 1948, is an American playwright, and poet. As a self proclaimed black feminist, much of the content of her work addresses issues relating to race and feminism.
Shange is best known for the Obie Award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
She also wrote Betsey Brown, a novel about an African American girl who runs away from home. Among her honors and awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, and a Pushcart Prize. Shange lives in Brooklyn.
Shange was born Paulette L. Williams in Trenton, New Jersey to an upper-middle-class family. Her father, Paul T. Williams, was an Air Force surgeon, and her mother, Eloise Williams, was an educator and a psychiatric social worker. When she was 8, Shange’s family moved to the racially segregated city of St. Louis. As a result of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, Shange was bused to a white school where she endured racism and racist attacks.
Shange’s family had a strong interest in the arts and encouraged her artistic education. Among the guests at their home were Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and W. E. B. Du Bois.
When Shange was 13, she returned to New Jersey, where she graduated fron Trenton Central High School. In 1966 Shange enrolled at Barnard College. She graduated cum laude in American Studies, then earned a master’s degree in the same field from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. However, Shange’s college years were not all pleasant. She married during her first year in college, but the marriage did not last long. Depressed over her separation and with a strong sense of bitterness and alienation, Shange attempted suicide. In 1971, having come to terms with her depression and alienation, Shange changed her name. Ntozake means she who has her own things (literally things that belong to her in Xhosa) and shange means he/she who walks/lives with lions (meaning the lion’s Pride in Zulu).
In 1975, Shange moved to New York City, where in that year her first and most well-known play was produced—For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. First produced Off-Broadway, the play soon moved on to Broadway at the Booth Theater and won a number of awards, including the Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and the AUDELCO Award. This play, her most famous work, was a 20-part poem that chronicled the lives of Black women in the United States. The poem was eventually made into the stage play, was then published in book form in 1977, then made into a movie in 2010 (For Colored Girls, directed by Tyler Perry). Since then, Shange has written a number of successful plays, including an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), which won an Obie Award.
In 2003, Shange wrote and oversaw the production of Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines: Layla’s Dream while serving as a visiting artist at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Individual poems, essays, and short stories of hers have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Black Scholar, Yardbird, MS, Essence Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, VIBE, and Third-World Women.
My Father Is a Retired Magician
|by Ntozake Shange|
(for ifa, p.t., & bisa) my father is a retired magician which accounts for my irregular behavior everythin comes outta magic hats or bottles wit no bottoms & parakeets are as easy to get as a couple a rabbits or 3 fifty cent pieces/ 1958 my daddy retired from magic & took up another trade cuz this friend of mine from the 3rd grade asked to be made white on the spot what cd any self-respectin colored american magician do wit such a outlandish request/ cept put all them razzamatazz hocus pocus zippity-do-dah thingamajigs away cuz colored chirren believin in magic waz becomin politically dangerous for the race & waznt nobody gonna be made white on the spot just from a clap of my daddy's hands & the reason i'm so peculiar's cuz i been studyin up on my daddy's technique & everythin i do is magic these days & it's very colored very now you see it/ now you dont mess wit me i come from a family of retired sorcerers/ active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers wit 41 million spirits critturs & celestial bodies on our side i'll listen to yr problems help wit yr career yr lover yr wanderin spouse make yr grandma's stay in heaven more gratifyin ease yr mother thru menopause & show yr son how to clean his room YES YES YES 3 wishes is all you get scarlet ribbons for yr hair benwa balls via hong kong a miniature of machu picchu all things are possible but aint no colored magician in her right mind gonna make you white i mean this is blk magic you lookin at & i'm fixin you up good/ fixin you up good n colored & you gonna be colored all yr life & you gonna love it/ bein colored/ all yr life/ colored & love it love it/ bein colored/
Poem courtesy of Poets.org