Ntozake Shange. In the Flesh. Ordinary.

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

i keep wanting to get to the angry post. life gets in the way. but maybe something, someone is telling me to stay focused….


but the something is not Shange. because that’s another thing. for once–thank god–we are dealing with a living legend:

i wonder if she ever wishes we would all just get past for colored girls. wonders if we will ever look at the rest of her catalogue–her poems, her essays, her novels, her other plays, her word paintings–or if we will continue to circle, magnify, even deify this one work.

as an artist, how would i feel?

it’s almost forty years since i wrote that….

The play was first performed on Broadway in 1976.

via the Grio:

Christopher Nelson: What was your reaction to seeing the film?
Ntozake Shange:I think all the actresses performed remarkably well. I hate to name anybody, because it’s an ensemble cast. It’s so difficult to pick one out as outstanding without picking the other, and so I’d have to say, all the actresses did stellar work. I think Tyler directed them well, because there were very few flaws I could find in the acting, so that’s his work and their work.
Christopher Nelson: Do you agree at all with the reviews which have been highly critical and said your work was somewhat cheapened by Tyler Perry?
Ntozake Shange: I haven’t seen those people in 20 years. I don’t know who those people are, they don’t know me. I don’t know who those people are. It cheapened, darling my work used to be for free. I used to do these poems by myself with a drummer or a tamboura player, or with a piano player, any kind of music player I could get. We would do it outside on a corner, and we would make art in the street, and people would throw things at us like coins. One time I had a group I was with called The Mushara Brothers and they gave me a tambourine, and I used to hop around with a tambourine to get our change for the night. One night we made $2.57 that’s all we made, and we had to divide it between the three of us.

how do we remember/recognize an artist and her purpose?

Christopher Nelson: Some have said they think this film could have benefited from a female director? Would you have liked to see a black female director such as Julie Dash or Kasi Lemmons or Nzingha Stewart or just a female director attempt this work? Do you think it needed a female director? Would you have liked to see that?
Ntozake Shange: I would love to work with some of them on something else. There is a specific purpose I have for doing this, when I did it, with whom I did it. Because at this stage in my career I need to open my audience not to shut it down. But I have definitely investigated female directors. I definitely want to get back to work with Nzingha on something, and I definitely want to do something with Julie Taymor. So those are my two top.

There is a specific purpose I have for doing this, when I did it, with whom I did it. Because at this stage in my career I need to open my audience not to shut it down.

brown braided woman
with big legs & full lips
seriously intendin to finish her
night’s work

& i first met Ntozake Shange at a private lunch for students before the talk above. quiet, introspective, cerebral. this is the shange i remember (which does not make her the same shange she is now or was then when she wrote/performed for colored girls). this was a woman who was not afraid to be silent–even when she was on display, even when she was expected to speak, engage, teach (shuck, jive, smile with white teeth). this was a woman who was not afraid to be in her own skin, who kept hold of her stuff, who knew the price paid by black girls who did not–


and was/is a survivor
& still keeps us in mind–

“To the 30 million african women/in the
~dedication, See No Evil: Prefaces, Essays & Accounts, 1976-1983 (1984)

we are a selfish people.

artists know that. they know that they offer something to the world that will live forever, that, even when lost, lingers ghostly, waiting to be recovered. they know we are arrogant. that we think we can read an artist’s mind. and as black girls who have considered suicide, as women of color who have seen rainbows and are unicorns, artists know that we are parched with longing. we want to be so much more than what we are (seen as). and we want our idols to do what we can’t even do for ourselves. and we want their work to do just what we want it to because we feel that it meant the most to us and therefore that makes it right. And because it is so personal to us just as it was, when it was what it is, any change is terrifying. blinding.

we are churlish. and we are immature. and we are real.

but we have to keep growing.

…to be continued…

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