Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)
Before the production of for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange was an unknown. She had staged parts of the drama in various feminist cafes, bars, and poetry houses in California and New York. According to Shange, material from the play was first presented at the Bacchanal, a women’s bar just outside Berkeley, California, in December of 1974. The playwright and a group of friends continued performing the poems whenever and wherever they could. During this period, Shange was involved in dance groups and a women’s studies program.
The importance of Shange’s feminist choreopoem is that it poignantly and powerfully speaks to and for anguished women of the Third World as well as those of any race who see themselves as dispossessed, misunderstood, and mistreated. The play’s provocative, sometimes obscene language and feminist themes put Shange in the vanguard of experimental theater. She has continued to write not only for the theater but also fiction and poetry with great success. Her subsequent plays include A Photograph: A Still Life with Shadows; A Photograph: A Study in Cruelty (pr. 1977), Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon (pr. 1977; with Jessica Hagedorn), From Okra to Greens: A Different Kinda Love Story (pr. 1978), and Mother Courage and Her Children (pr. 1980; adapted from Bertolt Brecht’s play).
For colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf has been faulted for excluding any black males without serious psychological or personality problems. Furthermore, Shange’s profane rhetoric is provocative and sometimes needlessly offensive. Still, she said things for and to women with an effectiveness matched by no previous dramatist, and she presented these views in such a creative and tantalizing way that she captured a wide audience. Shange’s importance among contemporary dramatists has been widely acknowledged.