By AFRO Staff
A legendary Black feminist, poet and playwright shared an unforgettably intimate moment with District audiences just a few days before her passing on October 27 at a senior home in Bowie, Maryland. On October 23, award winning literary Ntozake Shange graced the stage of Busboy’s and Poets as she shared a selection of poems from her new book Wild Beauty: Newly and Selected Poems of Ntozake Shange.
Shange was born as Paulette Linda Williams in Trenton, New Jersey on October 18th, 1948. She attended Barnard College where she earned her BA in American studies. She became deeply invested in radical movements and ideology while studying at Barnard. The knowledge she acquired during this period, would ultimately influence her work as an artist and social justice champion for the rights, dignity and healing of oppressed people- specifically Black women.
Shange received her masters in American Studies from the University of Southern California.
Throughout the span of her career she created an unforgettable body of work which included over 15 plays, 19 poetry collections, a memoir, a host of novels, children’s books as well as essays. Her iconic work has received a lot of recognition including awards from the Los Angeles Times, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Council for Culture and Arts and on October 19 the Hurston/ Wright Foundation Legacy Awards in D.C. as well as NDEA and Guggenheim fellowships. One of her most notable works, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered SuicideWhen the rainbow is Enuf”, received an Obie Award and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play in 1977. A remarkably influential piece, “For Colored Girls” continues to be performed all over the world and has influenced other artists’ work.
The Busboys and Poets community welcomed Shange as she discussed her newest collection of poetry, “Wild Beauty: Newly and Selected Poems of Ntozake Shange”. The restaurant and community space, Busboys and Poets has hosted a number of literary legends since their re-emergence at their new location on 450 K St NW.
The conversation with Shange, began promptly at 6:30 p.m. and was a night to remember for all in attendance. Shange was as eccentric as she wanted to be, rocking her blue acrylic nails, blonde and blue box braids, colorful patterned jewelry accompanied by a beautiful black and gray ensemble. She sat on stage accompanied by her biographer/assistant, who helped her throughout the night.
The room was silent and in awe as Shange shared anecdotes about her love for music and dance, stories from her life, lessons learned, excerpts from her new book as well as never published material.
Each poem she shared, was accompanied by a story about the inspiration, event or trauma that had led to the poem being created. She shared that one of her favorite poems from her newest book, “Wild Beauty” was about Bob Marley, entitled “Rise Up Fallen Fighters.”
Shange was full of emotion as she spoke about the inhumane act of violence that took the lives of 49 people in the Orlando nightclub shooting. Speaking with the audience as if they were her closest friends and family. She revealed how traumatic the event was for her as she recalled how easily that could have been her daughter who is gay, in an “An Ode to Orlando”. Shange said that it took her 31 days before she could write a line of poetry again after the tragedy in Orlando.
After sharing an array of poems, she opened up the floor for questions from the audience. Her assistant kindly asked the audience to refrain from questions about her play, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide with the Rainbow Is Enuf.” A polite reminder that her work, influence and impact expands beyond just one play.
Shange offered advice on creating through moments of pain and trauma, “Do something nice for yourself. Give yourself a warm bath. Make yourself some wonderful tea. Bake a cake. Go visit a friend. Plant a flower,” she said continuing with other self care regiments. “Spend some time alone and just think about it….cry if you have to…There’s nothing wrong with a good silent cry or a big raging cry.
“And the most important thing is not to be ashamed of it. Don’t be ashamed because your sad or because somebody hurt you. Don’t let them shame you, that can be a harder block to get rid of. The shame you are having,” Shange said.
Her advice to young writers was, “Write everyday. Don’t edit yourself. You have to be able to look at your own private thoughts so that you can grow.”
Although Shange could no longer sign books herself, she stayed behind with her assistant who stamped everyone’s book with her signature while Shange took pictures and communed with the Busboy’s community.
On Saturday, October 27th Ntozake Shange passed away peacefully in her sleep. According to Shange’s sister, Ifa Bayeza, Shange had endured health challenges after suffering from a multiple strokes a couple of years ago.