Today, October 18, 2016 is a special day, the 68th birthday of Ntozake Shange! If I was lucky enough to call Ms. Shange my auntie or family friend I know at some point today we would get her a beautiful cake and sing her Happy Birthday three ways: first the classic “Happy Birthday”, then the Stevie Wonder MLK tribute version, and finally my favorite, 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”. I could hear us all now smiling, clapping, and mimicking the dope beat…”GO! GO! GO!” Yes, today Ms. Shange deserves all our adulation and best wishes not just because it’s her birthday but also for her work and the rich gifts she has given to us as a playwright and author.
Born Paulette L. Williams, on October 18, 1948, Shange grew up as the daughter of an Air Force surgeon father and a psychiatric social worker mother in Trenton, N.J. In 1966 she graduated high school and went on to attend Barnard College and UCLA earning bachelors and masters degrees in American Studies.
Shange is best known for her work, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (1975). A unique blend of poetry, music, dance and drama called a “choreopoem”, a term she coined to describe her work during the period known as the Black Arts Movement (1960-1980). Shange was among this group of politically motivated black poets, artists, dramatists, musicians, and writers who emerged in the wake of the Black Power Movement.
Philip Effiong explains the significance of Shange’s contribution to the dramatic stage, “…seventeen years after the phenomenal run of Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, colored girls became the second play by a Black woman to reach Broadway.” He goes on to point out that she “popularized a poetic style that sought to revive and tap from the nonverbal paradigms that inform her ancestral traditions.” Shange wanted to emphasize an African American theatrical tradition of “action, collective participation and celebration.” These ideas of action, collective participation and celebration I believe are necessary and applicable to the classroom communities we endeavor to build with and for our students. Deepen engagement for all your students by thinking of what aspects of the curriculum inspire students to take action, create activities for more collective participation by all students and finally make time for celebrating their work and accomplishments.
Although today we celebrate and honor the life and work of this phenomenal artist, Ntozake Shange, it is our students that are the true heiresses and heirs to the wealth of artistic expression bequeathed to them by her and the countless other artists of her generation. Over the last forty years her work continues to influence and inspire the creative genius in many generations. Here at CREAD we encourage you to share Shange’s work with your students and be inspired to merge academic content with action, collective participation and celebration.
Finally, if you are in the NYC metro area, you have an opportunity to come and celebrate Ntozake Shange as she is honored at the Langston Hughes Festival at the City College of New York on Thursday, November 17.
Deep thinkers only