Ntozake Shange Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The works of poet, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange (SHAHN-gay) are an essential part of modern African American literature. Her first successful work, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, is poetry brought to the stage and expressed through dance and music. This work was Shange’s initial step toward a prolific and innovative literary career.{$S[A]Williams, Paulette;Shange, Ntozake}

Shange’s intellectual and cultural environment as a child affected her artistic development. She was born Paulette Williams, the daughter of Paul T. Williams, a surgeon, and Eloise Williams, a psychiatric social worker and educator. An eclectic combination of popular music and various types of literature shaped her artistic development. In a self-interview in her poetry Nappy Edges Shange said that her mother read to her from such diverse writers as the Scottish poet William Dunbar, William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and the American poet Countée Cullen. Her musical sense was influenced by Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Josephine Baker, who were frequent guests at her parents’ home.

Although the combination of diverse literary and musical influences nourished her literary aspirations, Shange felt oppressed by society because of her race and gender. While she was an undergraduate, she attempted suicide and struggled with the reality of life as a black and a woman. She attempted to resolve her feelings of oppression by changing her name while working toward her master’s degree at the University of Southern California. She changed her name to Ntozake Shange, Zulu words for “she who comes with her own things” and “she who walks like a lion.” By changing her name, Shange replaced a name that had nothing to do with her sense of her own reality (Paulette is derived from a man’s name, Paul, and Williams is an Anglo-Saxon name) with a name that clarified her identity as a black woman.

Shange’s creative goals became clearer and more productive during her teaching years. She taught humanities, women’s studies, and African American studies at Sonoma State College, the all-woman Mills College, and at University of California extension classes between 1972 and 1975. During this period she...

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(Drama for Students)

Born Paulette Williams on October 18, 1948, Shange, at the age of twenty-three, adopted the Zulu name Ntozake (pronounced "en-toe-zak-ee" and...

(The entire section is 586 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Shange, originally named Paulette Williams, was born on October 18, 1948, in Trenton, New Jersey. She was the oldest of four children growing...

(The entire section is 506 words.)