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Mon, 10.18.1948

Ntozake Shange, Author with distinction

Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange was born on this date in 1948. She was a Black playwright, author, and educator.

She was born Paulette Williams in Trenton, NJ, to Paul T. Williams, a surgeon, and Eloise Williams, a psychiatric social worker and educator. She is the oldest of four children of an upper-middle-class family. In 1956, when she was five years old, her family moved to a then racially segregated St. Louis, where she enjoyed music, dance, art, literature, and opera.  At a German-American school, she suffered blatant racism as a part of the dawn of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. She was an avid reader of Jean Genet, Herman Melville, and Langston Hughes.

She also came in contact with musicians and singers like Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Josephine Baker, all friends of her parents.  W.E.B. DuBois was also a family visitor.

In 1961, she returned to New Jersey, completed high school and became increasingly aware of the inequities of the American society regarding Black females; five years later she enrolled at Bernard College. Soon after this she attempted suicide (more than once) after a recent separation from her law school husband and a deep sense of bitterness and alienation.

Upon gathering herself together, she earned a bachelor's degree with honors in American studies from Barnard College in 1970, a master's degree in American studies from the University of Southern California in 1973. In 1971 she decided to take a African (Zulu) name: Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things", and Shange means "who walks like a lion." This change reinforced her inner strength and to redirect her life. Shange has taught humanities, women's studies, and Afro-American studies from 1972-1975 at Sonoma State College, Mills College, and University of California Extension.

During the same period, she was dancing and reciting poetry with the Third World Collective, Raymond Sawyer's Afro-American Dance Company, West Coast Dance Works; and her own company that was then called "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide." In 1975, she moved to New York. That move was facilitated by the production of her choreopoem, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf." During the long run of this production, Shange was an artist in residence for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a creative writing instructor at City College of New York.

She has had several volumes published: "Sassafras: A Novella" (1977); "Nappy Edges," a book of poems (1978); and "three pieces" (1981), a book which contains three theatre pieces. A number of her short stories appeared in such publications as Yardbird Lives, the Little Magazine, Spell #7, The Black Scholar, Ms. Magazine, Midnight Birds, and The American Rag; her poems were published in Black Maria, Black Heights, The Black Scholar, Yakity Yak, and others.

From 1976 to 1980, she gave frequent readings and lectures at Yale University, University of North Dakota, Howard University, New York University, Detroit Art Institute, Southern University, and others. She married her second husband, David Murray, a musician.

Shange has written a children's book, "I Live in Music" (1994) and "Lilliane: Resurrection of the Daughter" (1994). She has also worked on a play with Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Shange died in her sleep on October 27, 2018, aged 70, in an assisted-living facility in Bowie, Maryland.  She had been ill, having suffered a series of strokes in 2004, but she "had been on the mend lately, creating new work, giving readings and being feted for her work." Her sister Ifa Bayeza (with whom she co-wrote the 2010 novel Some Sing, Some Cry) was quoted as saying: "It's a huge loss for the world. I don't think there's a day on the planet when there's not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister."

Reference:
The Book of African American Women
150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters
by Tonya Bolden
Adams Media
ISBN 1-58062-928-8

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