Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
Shange’s for colored girls was the second play by a black woman to reach Broadway, preceded by Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. The choreopoem won numerous awards and accolades, including the Golden Apple, the Outer Critics Circle, the Mademoiselle, an Obie, and an Audelco. In addition, it was nominated for the Tony, the Grammy, and the Emmy. Following its Broadway run, for colored girls toured London in 1977 under the sponsorship of the Samuel French Company and was produced for the Public Broadcasting Service in collaboration with stations WNET and WPBT-TV in 1982.
The play established Shange as a serious American playwright, one who voiced the sentiments of women everywhere and of every race who have suffered emotional and physical abuse. In particular, she initiated a sober examination of the specific plight of modern African American women, an examination previously absent from drama. Shange created a permanent place for herself in American theater history as she brought to the stage the choreopoem, a distinct art form that included chants, poetry, dance, and rituals.
Although the play incurred the wrath of many black men for its sketches of men who seem only to know how to lie, seduce, beat, rape, and abandon women, it was generally well received by critics. Edwin Wilson, in The Wall Street Journal, acclaimed Shange’s good ear and eye for the behavior and customs of black people. He also praised her capture of “the raw emotions of the modern black woman who against great odds fights for her integrity and her self-respect.” Jack Kroll of Newsweek wrote, “Shange’s poems aren’t war cries—they are outcries filled with controlled passion against the brutality that blasts the lives of colored girls.” Most critics restricted for colored girls to being merely a play about the existing relationships between African American women and their men rather than a work about men and women in general.