Issue 12.3-13.1 | Summer 2014/Fall 2014 / Guest Edited by Kim F. Hall, Monica L. Miller, and Yvette Christiansë

Introduction: Singing a “Black Girl’s Song” at Barnard and Beyond

it is possible to start a phrase with a word and end with a gesture/ that’s how I’ve lived my life/ that’s how I continue to study /produce black art
—Ntozake Shange, “why I had to dance”[1]

In the academic year 2012-2013, renowned poet, performance artist, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange, Barnard class of 1970, came back to the Barnard College campus in high style. “‘An Art That Was Rightfully Mine’: The Worlds of Ntozake Shange,” a yearlong series of literary, scholarly, and performative events in Shange’s name, animated the Barnard campus. Celebrating her prodigious accomplishments as a black feminist artist who exemplifies originality, generosity, interdisciplinarity, as well as intellectual and creative rigor, the “Year of Shange” also recognized the institutional changes that had been accomplished in her spirit and that made the celebration possible: the elevation of the revived Africana Studies program to departmental status after decades of campus activism; the hiring and retention of eight tenured faculty who populate the department (six of whom are black women); and the creation of the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies (CCIS), a intellectual and curricular project undertaken by Africana Studies; American Studies; and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, in collaboration with the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

Africana Studies, like Shange’s most well-known work, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, had moved from the margins of intellectual production to a center of sorts. The “Worlds of Shange” symposium signaled the realization of a vision nurtured by Barnard’s black community and alive in the works of Barnard’s distinguished black women alumnae—in particular, icons of black feminism including Zora Neale Hurston (BC ’28), Ntozake Shange (BC ’70), Thulani Davis (BC ’70), and Edwidge Danticat (BC ’90). After years of institutional work, our “Year of Shange” gave us a chance to live this vision, outlined in Tina Campt’s opening remarks:

[This conference] is a tribute to those who made it possible to dignify the cultures, histories, artistic productions, and political visions of African diasporic people, and to recognize their value as subjects and agents of scholarly and artistic merit, rather than as objects of analysis or exclusion.

Barnard faculty came together to read and analyze Shange’s work; alumnae came from New York and around the country to join in conversations about for colored girls, the choreopoem, and For Colored Girls, the major motion picture; current students and recent alumnae created an original performance inspired by Shange’s works that featured dance, music, and poetry; and distinguished scholars from all over the country gathered at Barnard for an historic conference dedicated to Shange’s oeuvre. At these events, they also discussed Some Sing, Some Cry, Shange’s latest novel, written in collaboration with her sister, Ifa Bayeza; the “choreoessays” in lost in language & sound, a collection of aesthetic statements beautifully examining her challenging yet accessible range of work; and her increasingly public discussion of disability and aging.[2]

Shange’s world is deep and wide; her miraculous accomplishment is that she has made a place for all of us in it. As seen throughout the volume and discussed later in this introduction, her work, at once global/ “pan-hemispheric” and intensely personal, makes space for others’ songs about a range of human experiences. Thus it is unsurprising that her works are taught in countless classrooms across the country and the globe—Shange appears on high school and university syllabi in American and African American literature classes, in courses on theater and performance studies, and in gender and sexuality studies departments. Shange’s work is performed on college campuses every year, adapted in countless ways to reflect the cultural politics of each site; it can be seen in US women’s prisons as drama therapy; it appears in the cultural centers of East and West Africa (Nairobi, Lagos), easily adapted (or not) to lives of the women living there. In these diverse settings, Shange’s work is chosen for the way in which, according to Nigerian director Wole Oguntukun, it has the ability to enable people to “see their world through the eyes of others . . . [to] see the things that a lot of people don’t think, basically. . .theater tries to shake them out of complacency and tries to make them remember that there is trouble out there.” Chronicling the trouble in here and “out there,” providing poetic rituals, actual and metaphorical recipes as healing solutions, Shange’s “world” has been transformative of our own, on local and global scales.

Shange’s Impact

If Shange’s major impact can be described as a kind of “world-making,” then this world might best be described as one in which border crossings—of influence, geography, and genre—articulate the land. In an early essay, Ntozake Shange meditates on what it means for an African American writer to confront (or not) Anglophone literary history and tradition. Worried about all of the effort black people have made to engage Western “classics” to fit their particular histories and concerns, Shange decides that, “I owe not one more moment of thought to the status of European masters. I don’t have to worry that Ira Aldridge thinks poorly of me for not accepting a challenge/ the battle is over. I am settling my lands with my characters, my language, my sense of right & wrong, my sense of time & rhythm. The rest of my life can go along in relative aesthetic peace/ the enemy has been banished from my horizons.”[3] Although this essay was written in the 1970s, it functions as an “artist’s statement” for her entire oeuvre, which, thankfully, is still in progress. For Shange, the most important aspect of her work has been the creation and population of worlds inhabited by “her people,” simultaneously creating a nurturing and challenging space for them to breathe, flourish creatively, heal themselves and others, and inspire spiritual and perspectival transformation. This world is constituted in and by extra/ordinary black men and women, boys and girls, elders and ideas who communicate with each other and us in a language that is indeed “Shange’s” and “our” own. Her language is an English syncopated and elongated to capture the essence of not only what needs to be said, but also the way in which these thoughts must be expressed. Shange’s “sense of right and wrong,” her moral vision, as expressed by the truth-telling of individual black women or women of color, engenders a world which redefines community, citizenship, and justice. Paying attention to her own “sense of time and rhythm” has enabled her to work at the edge of innovation, a place that is oxymoronically wholly original, yet inviting to ancestors and futurity. Wanting to be a “primary source” instead of a reference book, Ntozake Shange has created black classics, grounded in her people and her language, which are new and fresh each and every time and place they are read, performed, and adapted.

Just as she put aside the “European masters,” and their classic texts, she has been similarly compelled to modify, translate, and transform the “King’s English” to better express the knowledge, experience, ironies, expansiveness, and pleasures of black diasporic lives. She began this task with her own name, exchanging Pauline L. Williams for Ntozake, which means “she who has her own things” in Xhosa (literally “things that belong to her”) and Shange, which means “he/she who walks/lives with lions” (literally “the lion’s pride”) in Zulu.

Refusing to take Shakespeare as her only literary forebear, Shange looks instead to more home-grown (even down-home) wordsmiths, in particular the anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (BC ’28), who, during a time when black writers were perhaps overly concerned with reaching white/Western standards of literary merit, championed the language of the folk.[4] Hurston wrote in a black vernacular that was—to coin a Hurstonism—“actional;” words and phrases in “Sweat” and Their Eyes Were Watching God have the ability to sing, to laugh, to cry, to “ironize.” Highly metaphorical and also entirely realistic, Hurston’s English, the form of her “Negro expression,” was dramatic and angular, wholly original. Shange’s English takes Hurston’s innovations deeper into the realm of sound—her lack of capitalization, spelling and grammar modification, and use of the dash and the slash all transform English into a living and breathing language that indicates on the page the fact that it was also once in the mouth. To read Shange, either to oneself or out loud, requires physical and cognitive adjustments. To experience Shange, you must cross over into her linguistic world and ruminate there. “Settling my lands,” means finding transnational language(s) of communication, a necessity as her people are Hispanic, Francophone, and Lusophone, too.

Sui generis in terms of both form and language, Shange has also addressed subjects and topics in her work that previously had not been afforded significant literary and lyrical treatment. As an artist who chooses to center her work on the dangers and pleasures of being a black woman and/or girl, Shange has become one of the defining figures in the history of black feminism, one of the women who has composed countless celebratory and mournful “black girl’s songs.” In for colored girls alone, Shange brought to the page/stage poems that addressed the “metaphysical dilemma” of “bein a woman & bein colored.”[5] For her, this conundrum includes the silencing of black women and girls due to the “double bind” of racial and gender oppression, domestic violence and rape, abortion, competing and debilitating standards of beauty, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and AIDS. Her other works take up these and other salient topics that resonate in and with contemporary American culture: the politics of cultural appropriation and modern minstrelsy (spell #7), the politics of food and food culture(s) (if I can Cook), and the legacy and impact of the Civil Rights movement and school desegregation (Betsy Brown, Liliane), to name a few.

It is in the depth and breadth of her subject matter that we see Shange’s moral vision, her “sense of right and wrong.” To make use of a very contemporary phrase, “black lives matter” to Shange, they are her beginning and ending. In particular, the lives of black women and girls matter—Shange writes to ennoble, encourage, and protect their paths to womanhood and self-realization. In this, she anticipates present-day initiatives like the African American Policy Forum’s #WhyWeCan’tWait, which focuses on black girls, thus realigning President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper campaign to improve and save the lives of black boys.[6] In focusing her work on the creation of a literature for these girls, to reflect their experiences and also to spur their dreams, Shange has created a space of safekeeping and recognition that benefits us all.

Shange and Diaspora

Like most people of color, black people in the New World, I came by my passion for literature in a circuitous way, a night journey marked by music, movement, improvisation, and smells of perfume, sweat, and humid star-flickering nights.
—Ntozake Shange, “from analphabetic to script obsessed”[7]

We chose the title “The Worlds of Ntozake Shange” to highlight the singular ways her words perform and create worlds, a melding of form and afrodiasporic experience. The above epigraph captures the evolution of Shange’s work out of sensual experience, movement, people, place, and history. Our contributors chose a variety of terms—”consummate multimedia artist” (Brody); “dynamic, multidimensional” (Griffin); “poetic melding of body and voice”/ “choreopoetic” (Sullivan)—to capture Shange’s multimodal artistic and critical practice. This melding of dance, poetry, music, sight, and sound that Shange herself has called “carnal intellectuality” led to her singular achievement of the choreopoem.[8][9] As Jennifer DeVere Brody and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan (in their respective essays in this volume) define it, the choreopoem is an “interdisciplinary performance where action, voice, and body all move collectively in a performative ‘inter(in)animation,’” a “form designed explicitly to represent the complexities of intersectional identity.” Theatrical and performative, two signal traits of black diasporic cultures, the choreopoem lives in the space between poetry, prose, and dialogue, between languages of the tongue and languages of the body. Nigerian poet/dramatist Niyi Osundare’s performance of his recent choreopoem, “A Hole in the Sky”—included in this volume—shares with Shange’s work a multilingual and multiply layered relationship to music, as well as a sense of necessary connection to the earth.

Her development of this embodied practice is intimately related to the ways Shange moves through her worlds as an artist and subject. Beginning in her childhood homes in St. Louis and New Jersey, where she and her siblings directly and indirectly experienced a range of black arts drawn from across the world (“when my parents traveled, which they did a lot, they brought the music and dance back with them”),[10] and continuing throughout her life, Shange worked with artistic communities on both US coasts that were also communities of various identifications.[11] Shange experienced the world physically, sensually, and politically, taking what she needed in the spirit of conservation and communion. Contributor Farah Jasmine Griffin argues that, with Jayne Cortez, Toni Cade Bambara, and other black writers, Shange introduced new black subjects to literature: “women . . . who were creative, multilingual, bohemian, literate, hip to avant-garde jazz and Latin music, and political.” Jennifer DeVere Brody proposes that Shange’s representation of these perhaps rarefied worlds is nonetheless linked to the celebration of the everyday in the tradition of Hurston and Alice Walker. The resolution of this tension between the rarefied and the quotidian is fictionalized in Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo and chronicled in her cookbook/travelogue, if I can Cook, you Know God can as well as in lost in language and sound.

The evolution of for colored girls epitomizes the relationship of Shange’s artistic practice to place, space, and identity. While studying for her master’s degree, and, at the same time grappling with her desire to leave her academic program in order to join the musician Sun-Ra, Shange began performing her poetry, dancing, and studying in a range of communities. for colored girls metamorphosed from poetry to choreopoem during Shange’s movement between queer clubs, black women’s dance spaces, black music venues, multiracial feminist collectives, and women’s studies programs. In Shange’s words, “The space we used was the space I knew.”[12] In the dance clubs, she developed “acceptance of the ethnicity of my thighs and backside,” which came with “a clearer understanding of my voice as a woman and a poet,” and in multilingual feminist spaces she continued to develop a black feminist consciousness that was always linked to the struggles of other women of color, a connection evoked in the flow of the line “Like most people of color, black people in the New World, I came by my passion for literature in a circuitous way.”[13] It is helpful in this context to remember that the “rainbow” of for colored girls references the female Orishas,[14] and that the earliest New York audiences of for colored girls, whose enthusiasm propelled it first to the Public Theater and then to Broadway, were Latina as well as black.[15]

Emerging as it does from these experiences of community and cross-pollination, it is no surprise that one of the gifts of for colored girls is that it establishes what Soyica Diggs Colbert calls “alternative socialities,” kinships which, because they are not built on family or blood ties, can create and sustain community as needed. One might say that performing for colored girls creates the possibilities for community that Shange has sustained and relied upon for her artistic development and survival. Thus we see throughout the volume that a variety of people and groups—US college students (Cobrin, Durden, Performing Shange video, Tobin-McCauley),[16] queer artists (Sullivan),[17] incarcerated women (Moller); Kenyan and Nigerian women (Kaigwa, Oguntokun) and others—have found in Shange’s words the space for healing and political critique. While people might originally connect through an experience of oppression, the healing comes through a collective experience of pleasure, sensuality, and the sacred; in other words, through what Audre Lorde calls “the erotic.”[18]

In her interview with director/writer Mũmbi Kaigwa, Chris Cynn notes that for colored girls, while profoundly black American in some respects, “also seems to be affirming a kind of Africanicity that’s rooted in the diaspora”; indeed, understanding Shange’s “pan-afro-hemispheric consciousness” is key to comprehending the nature and impact of her art.[19] Vanessa K. Valdés’ examination of “Hispanic artistic motifs” in Shange’s work argues that “in regularly mentioning musical forms and artists from throughout the Americas, not only from the United States, Shange gives a more full representation of African diasporic life, suggesting an alternative, more ample definition of blackness.”[20] Indeed, the Americas, particularly the Afro-Caribbean, is central to Shange’s sense of blackness: she locates her insistence on the African-ness of blackness not in romanticized visions of Africa, but in the crucible of slavery and the Middle Passage.

Shange’s connection to Africa is both pan-African and historically specific: she evokes a modern decolonizing Africa connected to global freedom struggles like the Latin American liberation movements, in which she participated. Farah Jasmine Griffin notes Shange’s and other black women’s marginalization from the Black Arts and Black Power movements; Shange recounts that her early insistence on the centrality of Caribbean-American experience was a key point of contention and that she found acceptance in Puerto Rican and Dominican venues absent from Black Power circles:[21]

When it came time for the black nationalists to talk about going to the Motherland, they all wanted to go to Africa. And I was concerned about the other black people who had been here 500 years, who had the same or similar experiences to me. And I wanted to know about them. Because that’s who I came from. And there were millions of us who had more in common than I had in common with the millions of people who had been left in Africa. No disrespect to them, but I came from a 500-year-old tradition that I felt I had to honor.[22]

Actress/playwright Robbie McCauley, who appeared on Broadway as the lady in red, tells Kate Tobin that this honoring of New World experience is at the heart of Shange’s language and poetics: “The story of American slavery—ripped away from one culture and having to go through the period of finding our feet in another place, and redefining ourselves, and still keeping the resonance of our original culture. Zake finds all of that in her language, in what’s resonated through her poems.”[23] Shange’s characters (and indeed the pages of her work) develop connections across space to peoples scattered throughout the diaspora as well as a connection through time to the enslaved. Director Wole Oguntokun’s caution that there are “cities under the cities which Ntozake might not have been able to reach,” captures African experiences not touched by for colored girls, but ironically resonates with the key passage in Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo where Indigo slips through time from “The Caverns” in Charleston to the slave dungeons of the Gold Coast.[24]

Carnal intellectuality is for Shange part of how we understand the knowledge and experience of ancestors in slavery. That experience is physical, even sensual (Valdés), and “attests to Shange’s deep and abiding interest in (black) embodied pleasure” (Brody). Dance, eating and music can link black people, particularly black women, not only to one another in healing and community (Colbert, Gumbs, Kaigwa, Sullivan) but also to modes of survival from the past:

this is one of my theories . . . that during slave times, when we were doing manual labor that was repetitive and hard, that that would create an endorphin high, the same way you get when you’re doing really intense physical energy—expending it. So your endorphins come out, and you can have visions or you can have a deep sense of concentration that allows you to keep going on and doing this physical thing that’s so hard, and, and creating sweat and perspiration, endorphins. And that mystical things can happen in that state. And that black women, as cleaners and helpers and cane cutters and cotton pickers and bean pickers and apple pickers and pineapple pickers and . . . all, every, all of that labor created a state, a state of mind that let, that left room for wondrous and beautiful thoughts to escape where we were.[25]

This sense that the everyday—and even the torturous—both connects black people to their past and leaves room “for wondrous and beautiful” thoughts and escape in the present is key to Shange’s impact (see also Stacey Muhammad). For instance, the child Indigo, an artist and healer, is a key example of Shange’s interest in innocence and black girlhood (also lady in brown, lady in yellow, Liliane, Betsey Brown).[26] Her portrayal of Indigo gives readers “a pedagogy for the gifted child” (Griffin), but also materializes the connection between an ancestral past and bountiful future (“Indigo plays her own song and in so doing she also plays the songs of her ancestors while creating a pathway for the yet to be” [Brody]). Indigo’s immersion in the lives of “the folk” and transformation of quotidian experience is central to what Alexis Pauline Gumbs calls “Indigo subjectivity”: “in black feminist practice [Indigo subjectivity] is our materialization of a reality, an everyday portable and shareable lived experience that in its intent and physicality offers healing backwards and forwards in time and space.” Shange’s everyday, lived experience becomes a key part of her poetics (Brody). In a conversation with Paul Scolieri and Shange, choreographer Dianne McIntyre, a long-time Shange collaborator, laughingly remembers dancers trying to track down people and places named in Shange’s pieces only to find out that they were Shange’s neighbors, friends, and acquaintances, brought into the performance space with Celia Cruz, Archie Shepp, Tina Turner, Toussaint L’Overture, and other luminaries.[27]

In This Volume

This double issue of The Scholar & Feminist Online follows the organization of the initial Barnard conference. While we arranged the speakers into panels according to their specialties, each panel serendipitously focused on the two most acclaimed works in Shange’s expansive and varied canon: her 1982 novel, Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo and, of course, for colored girls (1975). But the essays transcend these two texts, making profound interventions into the nature of Shange’s relationship to language, to the arts, and to the various worlds in which she moves and which inspired her work. The essays in Section One, “We are an interdisciplinary culture / we understand more than verbal communication,” put Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo in dialogue with other Shange texts from nappy edges (1978) to if I can Cook, you Know God can (1998); they examine her poetics, her orthography, her insights into black cosmopolitanism and black genius, as well as her black feminist practice. So, too, the essays in Section Two, “a poetic possibility/ a poetic imperative: for colored girls,” revisit the impact of for colored girls, mapping the many ways the original choreopoem and the work it inspired cultivate black feminist community in resistance to the nation-state, narrow notions of the black diaspora, heteronormativity, and homophobia—both in the United States and worldwide.

Although Shange avers that she is “a poet in american theater,” rather than a playwright and evidences great distrust that “American Theater” as an institution can convey the truth and breadth of black lives, for colored girls has nonetheless moved into the canon of American theater.[28] Section Three, “Moving our theater into the drama of our lives: Performing Shange” delves into the choreopoem’s transformation of people and space.

Shange’s “worldliness” and the impact of for colored girls bring up the issue of the universality of Shange’s art, a question that becomes an unexpected through-line in this section. How does a work that speaks so vividly of Shange’s experiences of being a black woman in the Americas reach so many audiences that may only tangentially know of that experience? Shange, of course, comprehends this question in a specifically diasporic framework. In the essay “takin’ a solo/ a poetic possibility/ a poetic imperative,” from nappy edges, she argues that black poets carry a specific burden of speaking to “a black experience” that other artists do not: “we assume the poet to be the voice of everywhere we are not/ as opposed to bein ‘everything we are.’”[29]

Christine Cynn’s interviews with directors Wole Oguntokun and Mũmbi Kaigwa take up the question of how much for colored girls speaks across cultural contexts. While Kaigwa (who, like McCauley, performed in an original for colored girls production and provided artistic vision for a later one) sees it as “a very American play, very particular and specific to a particular era,” she notes how little the reaction had changed in the 25 years since her first experience of for colored girls: “It was almost sad, the things women were saying about the show were that they found it so . . . liberating . . . A lot of women said that they felt that it was they themselves who were telling the story.”[30] Reflecting on her experiences performing Shange’s words and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, Victoria Durden (BC’15), like Kaigwa, finds that it is the intensely personal nature of Shange’s work and its call for a communal response that produces the larger effect: “And herein lies the important distinction between feminist theatre that is purportedly ‘global’ and that which is specific and above all, ‘personal.’”

If Shange’s pen is a machete, her choreopoem has become a key tool in feminist and activist theater. Theater historian Pam Cobrin and actress Robbie McCauley contextualize for colored girls’ movement from Broadway into a campus feminist phenomenon, Cobrin in relationship to the establishment of campus “V-Days” with performances of The Vagina Monologues and McCauley in the context of serving as artistic director to a for colored girls performance at Boston College. In the video, Ntozake Shange on Stage and Screen, Soyica Diggs Colbert, Monica L. Miller, and Ntozake Shange discuss the appearance of the Tyler Perry directed film, For Colored Girls and Shange, for the first time, speaks openly of her feelings about the movie.

Section Four: “lotsa body and cultural heritage: Shange’s legacy” includes materials that give newcomers to Shange important contexts for her work and its impact. Our conference speakers generously agreed to individual interviews while on campus, and BCRW creative director Hope Dector turned these inspiring meetings into two short videos. Her Pen is a Machete: The Art of Ntozake Shange offers a sense of Shange’s multiple political and poetic interventions—from the punctuation on the page, to the healing power of gesture, to the creation of space for powerful untold stories of trauma and transformation. Moving Across Disciplines and Genres: Teaching Shange gives strategies for teaching and interpreting Shange, helping students see how the page itself is performative and the necessity of bringing all of one’s senses to the reading experience. The final videos are taken from the conference: the conversation between Dianne McIntyre and Shange gives insight into Shange’s collaborative practice and the student showcase, performed for Shange at Barnard, is just one example of how students both perform from Shange’s oeuvre and create work inspired by her example.

Vani Natarajan, Barnard’s research and instructional services librarian for humanities and area studies, was an active member of the “Worlds of Shange” faculty seminar and generously compiled the “Recommended Reading and Online Resources” page, which includes both significant scholarly works and archival sources for future research.

These past 40 years have released the true spirit of inclusivity in for colored girls, in ways that are perhaps surprising to those who witnessed the initial controversy over the place of black men in the choreopoem (a controversy so virulent Shange avoids speaking about it in public even now). Stacey Muhammad’s interview with Gabrielle Davenport (BC ’15) hits on something we found throughout our research: the space the choreopoem creates for communities not composed of black women to tell their own stories. for colored girls is the guiding force behind Muhammad’s web series, For Colored Boys: Redemption, which tells the stories of incarcerated men in the free world and the communities who support them.

The Scholar & Feminist Online has been a notable platform for producing groundbreaking feminist scholarship and nurturing feminist pedagogy. We feel this pedagogical commitment is especially important as we continue to explore Shange’s legacy on stage, in the archive, and in classrooms—particularly now that the choreopoem for colored girls was revived (and somewhat overtaken) by the 2010 Tyler Perry film.

This double issue is launching at a time when Shange’s accomplishments and legacy are being recognized and preserved at Barnard and in the world. In 2013, Shange also donated papers, artworks, and books to the Barnard College Archives; students are now engaged in a yearlong course and multiyear digital humanities project on Shange and her influence. With this issue and archive, we have the opportunity for scholars and students to research and communicate the material connections of Shange’s work to second-wave feminist, black feminist, black arts, black power, Nuyorican poetry, and Civil Rights movements as well to the emerging field of Childhood Studies.

Characteristically turning complexity into creativity, Shange has said “the fact that we are an interdisciplinary culture /that we understand more than verbal communications / lays a weight on afro-american authors that few others are lucky enough to have been brought into.”[31] This “burden” has resulted in a body of work that functions as a portal to other worlds, past, present, future, and internal, that “sings a black girl’s song,” in countless artistic, emotional, and political registers.

Acknowledgments: This volume was truly a collaborative venture involving many members of the Barnard College community. In addition to Mariel Rodney, our discerning and resourceful production assistant; our contributors; and The Scholar & Feminist Online production team, the editors would like to thank: Megan Cunnane (BC ’16), Thulani Davis (BC ’70), David Hopson, Kathryn McLean, Shannon O’Neill, Miriam Neptune, Sarah Pasadino, Quandra Prettyman, Paul Scolieri, Claude Sloan, Jr., Souleo, Martha Tenney, Nicci Yin, Megan Wacha, the faculty in Africana Studies and CCIS, the wonderful staff of the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW), members of the Willen Faculty seminar, the students in the first “The Worlds of Ntozake Shange” seminar, the Provost’s Office at Barnard College and, of course, Zake.

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  1. Ntozake Shange, lost in language & sound or how I found my way to the arts: essays (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011). [Return to text]
  2. See Felicia Lee, “A Writer’s Struggles, on and off the Page,” The New York Times 17 Sept. 2010. [Return to text]
  3. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 43. [Return to text]
  4. See Monica L. Miller, ed., “‘Jumpin’ at the Sun’: Reassessing the Life and Work of Zora Neale Hurston,” The Scholar & Feminist Online 3.2 (2005). [Return to text]
  5. Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf (New York: Scribner, 2010) 45. [Return to text]
  6. See [Return to text]
  7. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 3 [Return to text]
  8. Ntozake Shange, “Ntozake Shange Conversation with ENGL3993,” The Worlds of Ntozake Shange Class Visit, II. United States, New York. 18 Apr. 2014. [Return to text]
  9. Shange discusses the development of for colored girls into a choreopoem in “a history: for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” in lost in language & sound, pp. 6-12, and in the foreword, “Beginning, Middles and New Beginnings—A Mandala for Colored Girls: Musings and Meditations on the Occasion of the Second Publication,” to the 2010 edition of for colored girls (New York: Scribner, 2010). See also Neal Lester, “Introduction: The Choreopoem,” in Ntozake Shange: A Critical Study of the Plays (New York: Garland, 1995) 3-19. [Return to text]
  10. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: xv. [Return to text]
  11. In “Subjects in History: Making Diasporic Identities,” Stuart Hall speaks of “a process of identifications, feeling yourself through the contingent, antagonistic and conflicting sentiments of which human beings are made up” rather than using a more static notion of identity. In The House That Race Built: Black Americans, U.S. Terrain, ed. Wahneema Lubiano (New York: Pantheon, 1997) 292. [Return to text]
  12. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 10. [Return to text]
  13. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 8. [Return to text]
  14. Ntozake Shange, “Ntozake Shange in Conversation with Thulani Davis,” The Worlds of Ntozake Shange Class Visit, 1 United States, New York. 17 Apr. 2014. [Return to text]
  15. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 11. [Return to text]
  16. Although not discussed in this issue, it worth noting that a Cambridge University performance of for colored girls directed by Justina Kehinde in 2012 was the first black, all-female performance at that university. [Return to text]
  17. See also Keith Boykin, ed., For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home (Magnus Books, 2012). Megan Wacha, in assisting students with research for “The Worlds of Ntozake” class, suggested that the wealth of modern choreopoems coming from black gay men (particularly in the Midwest) who post their work on Twitter and Instagram could be a fruitful avenue for future research. [Return to text]
  18. Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Freedom: Crossing, 1984) 53-59. [Return to text]
  19. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 52. [Return to text]
  20. Vanessa K. Valdés “’there is no incongruence here’: Hispanic Notes in the Works of Ntozake Shange” CLA 53.2 (2009) 133, and reprinted in this issue here; see also Griffin, this issue. [Return to text]
  21. Ntozake Shange, “Ntozake Shange in Conversation with Thulani Davis,” The Worlds of Ntozake Shange Class Visit, 1 United States, New York. 17 Apr. 2014. [Return to text]
  22. Ntozake Shange, “Ntozake Shange in Conversation with Thulani Davis,” The Worlds of Ntozake Shange Class Visit, 1 United States, New York. 17 Apr. 2014. See also If I Can Cook/ you Know God Can (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999) p.2 and throughout. [Return to text]
  23. McCauley and Tobin, this volume. [Return to text]
  24. Ntozake Shange, Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (Berkeley: Shameless Hussy, 1976) 49-50. [Return to text]
  25. Ntozake Shange, “Ntozake Shange Conversation with ENGL3993,” The Worlds of Ntozake Shange Class Visit, II. United States, New York. 18 Apr. 2014. [Return to text]
  26. See also Shange’s foreword to the volume Sugar in the Raw, in which she praises the teenaged subjects who are “able to cradle our vulnerabilities as they build on strengths needed to confront and enrich the next millennium.” Rebecca Carroll, Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. (New York: Crown/Archetype, 2011) 11. [Return to text]
  27. See “A Conversation with Dianne McInytre and Ntozake Shange” in this issue. [Return to text]
  28. Ntozake Shange, “unrecovered losses/ black theater traditions,” lost in language & sound or how I found my way to the arts: essays (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) 13-17. [Return to text]
  29. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 5. [Return to text]
  30. Interestingly, this cry for response is a key part of black feminist poetics and Kaigwa (this issue) mentions that it was the African American women in the Nairobi audience who “talk[ed] back” to the performance and responded viscerally, in contrast to the Kenyans who have a more English response to performance in a formal theater space. [Return to text]
  31. Shange, lost in language & sound 2011: 16. [Return to text]