Ntozake Shange

African American writer and performance artist (1948-2018)

Ntozake Shange (born October 18, 1948) is an American playwright, and poet. As a self-proclaimed black feminist, she addresses issues relating to race and feminism in much of her work.

Ntozake Shange in 1978

Quotes edit

  • …The characters in Sassafras did say awful things and trash one another, but there are people who do. In the time of the Sassafras narrative certain women's collectives existed that were very dramatic and people had a lot of lovers. We didn't even call it promiscuity. It was very different from the environment today. People today sit down and think about how they really want to be monogamous. It was not anybody's goal fifteen years ago.
  • I think I always see a young child or an adolescent of color, but not necessarily right this minute. I started writing because there's an absence of things I was familiar with or that I dreamed about. One of my senses of anger is related to this vacancy—a yearning I had as a teenager. I hate that word. But as an adolescent—to have done something that I didn't have and I didn't know what it was 'cause I had never heard about it…
  • …I think unless black women are writing the pieces, we're being left out the same way we used to be left out of literature. We don't appear in things unless we write them ourselves. In the white male literary establishment women attain what looks like positions of power or influence or economic stability, but they're structured in such a way that they become unthreatening.
  • …gender is cultural: we have menarche to deal with, virginity, menopause, pregnancy, childbirth; these things are unavoidable. And in some places they've been wise enough to have ritual and ceremony about significant events. It is unfortunate in our culture-meaning north American mainstream culture—that all this has been minimized to the point where little girls are even afraid to say that they are starting to menstruate when they should be very happy. Grown women are afraid to say that they are approaching the menopause, when that means that they have lived a whole successful life. They've lived so long that they can have this…
  • We must not let our oppression deny us the earth.
    • Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems (2017)

Interview with Mother Jones (1995) edit

  • I have spent my life undoing language until it works for me. We must not only repossess the language, we must deslaveryize it.
    • Toni Morrison writes about the ways we try to get over, around, and underneath our slave history, but it’s still there. How do you deal with that?
  • I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think. I want to say, “Here, look where you can live, look what you can think.” I concentrate on giving this to young people because they are the treasurers of black culture.
    • Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write?
  • No. I’m not trying to go away from anybody. I don’t go where my feelings get hurt. If you’re going to be nice to me, I’ll come.
    • Do you consider yourself a separatist?
  • Multiculturalism is a white people joke. Black people have always been here as different. People need to stop saying that there is one way to be–and then the issue will disappear. I don’t tell Navajos they can’t speak Navajo. I don’t tell Asians they can’t eat noodles. Because black people have refused to eat potatoes and cabbage, white people are terrified. Now that we’re saying “I’m talkin’ Zulu, I’m changin’ my name, my child’s goin’ to a black school with Muslims,” white people get upset and have to call it something. Multiculturalism isn’t about culture, it’s about power.
  • it doesn’t matter where I live. Just give me a room to write in.
  • I used to have boundaries up all the time, which is limiting. I never want to feel limited. If anything is life changing, being the descendant of a slave is. I went into therapy 10 years ago because I needed to work that out. I’ve gotten better. Everything about me is more fluid, much less rigid. I’m gonna do everything I can, feel everything I can, until it hurts. Then I’ll stop. All they did was buy us–it’s not an honor, it’s just something that happened. Our gifts belong to us.
    • Does your life, or your writing, have any boundaries?

Quotes about Ntozake Shange edit

  • Robert Staples sees in Ntozake Shange's play For Colored Girls "a collective appetite for black male blood." Yet it is my female children and my Black sisters who lie bleeding all around me, victims of the appetites of our brothers.
  • I went to a concert where Ntozake Shange was reading. There, everything exploded for me. She was speaking a language that I knew-in the deepest parts of me-existed, and that I had ignored in my own feminist studies and even in my own writing. What Ntozake caught in me is the realization that in my development as a poet, I have, in many ways, denied the voice of my brown mother-the brown in me. I have acclimated to the sound of a white language which, as my father represents it, does not speak to the emotions in my poems-emotions which stem from the love of my mother. The reading was agitating. Made me uncomfortable. Threw me into a week-long terror of how deeply I was affected. I felt that I had to start all over again. That I turned only to the perceptions of white middle-class women to speak for me and all women. I am shocked by my own ignorance.
    • Cherríe Moraga, "La Guera" in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
  • There is a line in Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enough. In the play, the woman in purple speaks after having struggled to deal with all the psychic and physical aspects of herself that the culture ignores or demeans. She sums herself up in these wise and peaceful words: “here is what i have . . ./poems/big thighs/lil tits/&/so much love”. This is the power of the body, our power, the power of the wildish woman.

External links edit