Celebrating Ntozake Shange’s ‘For Colored Girls’

Ntozake Shange (Photo via The Uptowner)

Ntozake Shange (Photo via The Uptowner)

Forty years ago, poet Ntozake Shange first presented a version of “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” in Berkeley. Within two years, her stunning work, which featured seven women relating their experiences in poetic monologues interspersed with dance and music, made it to Broadway.

Now, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem is unveiling an exhibit to commemorate Shange’s work, with two other galleries in Harlem participating as well, Demetria Irwin writes in the Amsterdam News. The exhibit at the Schomburg Center was curated by Souleo.

Souleo commissioned 20 art pieces for the Schomburg gallery, one for each poem in “For Colored Girls.” One of the featured artists is Dianne Smith. Her work for this exhibition is based on “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff,” a poem about a woman who is explaining how she had to regain her identity after a rough break-up. Smith’s piece takes up an entire wall and features yards of fabric and three video screens that show Smith and women she knows talking about the giving and taking of “stuff.”

Shange has called “for colored girls” a “choreopoem.” In an article appearing in The Uptowner, Yasmin Nouh also writes about the forthcoming exhibits and broad impact which the poet’s work has had.

After the Broadway run, the play earned multiple awards, won praise for diversifying the roles of black women on stage, sparked criticism for its portrayal of black men, and made Shange the second black woman to have her work performed on Broadway. (Lorraine Hansberry came first with “A Raisin in the Sun.”) Shange’s play, routinely taught in college drama departments as a seminal work in American theater, was adapted into a Tyler Perry movie in 2010.

“Her choreopoem had a choral flavor, reflective not just of one voice but of many voices,” said Barbara Lewis, a theater historian at the University of Massachusetts Boston in an email. “Shange brought wider representation, new energy and new spirit to the American stage.”

Shange gave an interview to the Amsterdam News, in which she discussed why her work’s themes continue to resonate for theatergoers:

“Unfortunately, the circumstances of Black women and girls haven’t improved in the last 40 years,” she said. “They’re challenging our reproductive rights, we don’t have a minimum wage, and we don’t have equal pay for equal work. There’s more violence against women these days than there was 40 years ago, so that all means being bombarded with cruelty and ignorance. That situation propels some women to investigate my work and seek solace and hope in some of the stories and recollections in the piece.”

Read why the three-gallery exhibit is called why “i found god in myself” and learn what Shange has been working on recently.

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