for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series) - Essay

Ntozake Shange

Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

One thing that set for colored girls . . . apart from the mainstream of African American literature from the time period in which it was first produced is that the work was not within the protest tradition. This tradition gave a voice to the fears and frustrations of African Americans as they reacted against the effects of white racism in the United States. Shange did not choose in this case to use racial oppression as a lens through which one could see all African American experience. This work is not about oppression of black people by white people. In fact, there are no white characters and few references to white people in any of the poems. Rather than participate in the main thread in African American literature of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Shange chose to portray African American women simply as people, rather than viewing them first and foremost as members of an oppressed class.

After receiving good reviews and strong popular support in its New York theatrical run, for colored girls . . . rather quickly reached the status of a modern classic. It receives regular revivals and performances throughout the United States and has begun to be taught in high school and college classes as well. It remains Shange’s best-known work, although she continues to publish poetry, give readings, and write dramas, including the critically successful Spell #7 (1979), which examines the degrading stereotypes faced by African American performers.