Celebrating the life of Ntozake Shange (1948 – 2018). May our words of praise and gratitude, like sparks drawn upward to the sky, ascend to meet her.
From performer and friend, Renee Charlow:
“I met Ms. Shange in 2014. She was scheduled at a tribute performance of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow in enuf in New York hosted by Erich McMillian-McCall of Project One Voice. This was the beginning of what would be 30 performances later that week staged worldwide honoring Ms. Shange. He needed someone to make certain all of her needs were met and that she was comfortable. We immediately hit it off; she was very easy to work with and seemed to want assistance. She was always so humbled and moved by the love and outpouring of support her work received.
I once asked her did she ever get tired of seeing for colored girls … performed. She said, “No, because the poetry contained in this work is the voice of the voiceless. I speak for the women who can’t speak for themselves. I united two of my favorite genres, poetry and dance and what you see on stage is the result. It’s my job to say what I see.”
Over the past four years, I traveled with her because of her mobility issues. I had the opportunity to visit many places with her, seeing locales and sitting in circles I probably would not have visited. Among them the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Barnard College in New York, Karamu House Theatre in Cleveland, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA and Davis and Elkins College in Elkin, WV. Everywhere we visited everyone received us with excitement, graciousness and reverence. I would watch from backstage and see people sometimes sit with her and cry as they would tell her how her poetry changed their life, how she doesn’t know how much she means to them and how they were the Lady in Orange five years ago.
I took her to Bowie State University, Bowie MD where I was an Assistant Professor a few years ago. We would also visit local theatre venues and just before we walked in she would say, “I don’t want anyone to recognize me. I don’t want to be a distraction to the audience” I would tell her “You are Notzake Shange—do you think anyone is not going to recognize you? “ We had local gigs including Busboys and Poets on K St NW which was on October 23, 2018. This would be her last public appearance.”
Ms. Charlow has shared generously shared these photos with us. (click each to enlarge)
“I will truly miss my friend, my sister, my shero, Ntozake Shange. The icon of the pen, the wordsmith who would sit on her chaise lounge and dictate poetry and lectures to me, while my fingers would work overtime just to keep up. The woman from Trenton, New Jersey who dared to write real stories and poems about women and people of color before it became fashionable or cute. The Barnard College alumna who was one of the only 4 women of color admitted that year. This beautiful spirit who was as generous a person as she was skilled as a writer.
Ase Queen. Paz y bendiciones”
From performer Roz White, Lady in Green
“You deposited jewels into this earth with your divine words and phrases… We are forever grateful…
Rest Well, QUEEN Ntozake Shange.”
Roz White performs the role of Lady in Green to honor the ascendance of Ntozake Shange.
From performer Jennifer Jones, Lady in Blue, and Lady in Red
Ntozake Shange has been a part of my life for many years. Playing Lady in Blue 30 years ago in college -as I was coming of age- was an eye opening experience since my real life so closely mirrored the character in so many ways including the basics- a ‘woulda been Spanish Jersey colored girl right outside of Manhattan’. The piece allowed me to honestly explore all of the masks African American women wear to live in our own skin and move around in our worlds- professionally and socially- as well as connect with other women in a deep, meaningful way. Shange’s works are those I have picked up over the years just because….and to provide some sustenance for my soul.
Playing Lady in Red [now] seems really full circle as I live ‘outside of Baltimore’ with a lot more life under my belt. Her work speaks to me on a deeper level and is just as relevant as it was when it debuted in the late ’70’s. My connection to each of the characters is visceral; I have met them, been friends with them and cried with them in my real life.
Ntozake Shange was a trailblazer, a truth seeker and teller, a woman of courage and determination telling our stories. She will forever hold a place in this colored girl’s heart and mind as well as many others (both women and men) who have had the experience of reading, performing or seeing her work on stage. Her work on earthis done, but the legacy she leaves behind will bless many generations to come. – Jennifer Jones, Lady in Red, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow in enuf produced by Heralds of Hope Theater through November 11, 2018.
From performer Margaret P. Bean, Lady in Orange
I have been blessed to be cast as the Lady in Orange in for colored girls… It is a great pleasure and joy to take on this emotionally challenging role that Ntozake herself played. Words that come to mind are Truth, Raw, Unapologetic. Ntozake a Woman born for such a time as this… her message presented and unappreciated by many, thought provoking to others, the era of the 70’s … We have come a long way, but there is still so much more to learn, experience and grow into as a people. So ever grateful for this dynamic Woman who was blazing trials long before it was popular, created and followed her own path for Women to freely open up and move forward. – Margaret P. Bean, Lady in Orange, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow in enuf produced by Heralds of Hope Theater through November 11, 2018.
From writer, performer, facilitator Lacey C. Clark!, Lady in Red
Ntozake Shange has always been part of my life. “You know, one thing I don’t need is any more apologies…. I got sorry greeting me at my front door….You can keep yours!” That was Lady in Red from for colored girls… The monologue, along with the Phenomenal Woman poem were my audition pieces for The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. I learned it and about her work years before at the Philadelphia Freedom Theater where I studied acting along with her daughter, Savannah. Getting into CAPA was an historical moment for me because it would continue my artistic and empowering journey to and through adulthood and womanhood. As empowerment coach and producer of cultural and inspirational events through Sisters Sanctuary, I have produced workshops, “I Found god within myself and I loved her, I loved her,fiercely” as a way to continue the opening, growth and expansion of my people through her work. Her great contribution to American culture is undeniable. And I am forever grateful for it. God is found. She lives on. Ase
From director Percy W. Thomas
As a male directing this great work, [for colored girls…] I was brought to a higher understanding and sensitivity for what my mother went through to raise me and my sister as a single woman.
Further, I have come to realize the tremendous pain women feel and sustain when they are assaulted and abused, and nobody believes it when they tell their stories. During rehearsal several of the actresses had strong emotional reactions that caused them to cry. The crying as they revealed to me was the result of the truth they found in Ntozake’s poems. Directing this play has made me more aware of the natural beauty that exist internally and externally in “Colored Girls.” The impact of this play on me as an African American man has been profound and I believe it has changed my interactions with my wife and other women for the rest of my life. To show how much I respect Ntozake’s work I wrote a fifteen-minute play titled Little Colored Girls.
Rest in peace, Ntozake, and thank you for the words you have left behind. – Percy W. Thomas, Artistic Director of Heralds of Hope Theater Company is directing for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow in enuf produced by Heralds of Hope Theater through November 11, 2018.
Voices from the audience:
“We all have truly lost a rare jewel. We are all blessed and grateful that she shared her many talents with us.” – Nancy Ricks
“I saw a production of for colored girls… at the National Theatre in Washington in 1977 or 1978 (I don’t remember the exact date). It was electrifying and, although, I’m not African American, it resonated with me based on my own experiences. Ms. Shange was an amazing poet.”- Patsy
“Plays have a special resonance for those there when they were created. My offering to these voices is to tell you how it was: Chicago, 1978, the first national tour of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.
I sat high up in the cheap seats of The Chicago Theater. Hanging over an upper balcony, I could make out the black women on stage and the white audiences wealthy enough to afford the orchestra seats.
Women were starting to fight back. I was part of a lesbian feminist collective on Chicago’s north side. We took part in ‘Take Back the Night’ marches. We scraped together money to pay the rent and phone bill for our crisis line, W.I.C.C.A (Women in Crisis Can Act) every month. Women called, desperate to escape the abuse of their boyfriends and husbands. We found them resources when we could. There were no safe houses; sometimes we opened our apartment to a woman needing temporary harbor. Some of us had been sitting witness at the trial of a Chicago policeman who killed his wife when he discovered she was gay. (He was acquitted).
I recognized the truths in Ntozake Shange’s women and the beauty of the performances. The transformative spiritual experience I’ve had only once after 40 years of watching plays came that night, at the end, when the cast sang “a laying on of hands”:
“I found God in myself. I found God in myself. And I loved her fiercely. I loved her fiercely.”
Those words were, as Patsy wrote above, electrifying, liberating. I can’t remember how long the audience kept the exhausted cast on the stage to receive our shouts and cheers.
But many African American men felt angry, exposed and humiliated by the play. In a meeting at Kuumba Theater on the city’s south side, they expressed that anger in a ferocious manner. The next day, I was part of a serene healing circle for the cast, held in a private home.
I believe that Ntozake Shange’s beautiful choreoplay, all the women who have performed it over the last 40 years, and those who will perform it have the power to lead us to a time where all will see god in themselves and embrace her and each other. Fiercely.
More photos from that production on Playbill.com
So many eyes have been opened, paths have been changed by this powerful play. Bless you, Ntozake Shange” – Lorraine Treanor, Publisher, DCTheatreScene.com
We invite you to add your thoughts in a comment below.
You must be logged in to post a comment.