Ntozake Shange Shange, Ntozake (Vol. 25)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Ntozake Shange 1948–

(Born Paulette Williams) Black American playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, and lecturer.

Shange's first major work, the choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, depicts the emotional and often suicidal despair of black women in an oppressive society. A reflection of her own emotional pain, Shange's feminist stance urges self-realization and independence for black women. Most critics praised the exciting theatricality of For Colored Girls but were disappointed in her more conventional play, Photography. They also felt that her adaptation of Mother Courage and Her Children failed to realize the complexity of Brecht's original drama.

(See also CLC, Vol. 8 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)

Toni Cade Bambara

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf] is a comfortably loose-strung series of portraits and narratives about women, black women…. (p. 36)

Blisteringly funny, fragile, droll and funky, lyrical, git down stompish, the play celebrates survival. The portraits are not case studies of stunning wrecks hollering about paid dues and criminal overcharges. The pieces are not booze-based blues and ballads about lost love and missing teeth. The Shange brand of keepin' on does not spring from the foot-caught-in-the-trap-gnawin'-ankle-free-oh-my-god school of moaning. She celebrates the capacity to master pain and betrayals with wit, sister-sharing, reckless daring, and flight and forgetfulness if necessary. She celebrates most of all women's loyalties to women.

One of the best orchestrated pieces on that dodgy subject involves three players who weave in and out of each other's lines, laying out a history of relationships: embrace, recoil, regather, resolve. (pp. 36, 38)

What is curious about the work is that though men appear exclusively as instruments of pain, there is no venom, no resorting to a Queen of Hearts solution—Off with his head! No godlike revenge, no godlike forgiving. Hell, some things are unforgivable. The women of the various pieces suck their teeth, storm, sass, and get on with the miracle of living….

The "voice" of Colored/Rainbow defies and encourages theatrics. It contains a funkiness and a grand opera eloquence that we use when we self-consciously share pain. (p. 38)

Toni Cade Bambara, "'For Colored Girls'—And White Girls Too," in Ms. (© 1976 Ms. Magazine Corp.), Vol. V. No. 3, September, 1976, pp. 36, 38.

Martin Gottfried

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Good is good, theater is theater and Shange's work ["For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf"] is the kind the stage was created for. There is no comparing the trust and presence of its power with any other kind of art in any other medium (nor any need or sense in comparison anyhow).

The show … [contains] the author's narratives, poems and dialogues, all designed to, in one way or another, "sing a black girl's song…. sing a song of life, she's been dead so long."

The overriding tone of these monologues is bitter but assertive, imbued with a new-discovered pride, reaching toward exultation. The anger is over time and pain wasted rather than an expected, indefinite continuation of it.

There is some lack of variety in the selection of material; an excess of concern with romance and sex, music and dancing, even considering that the work is about young women. Within that limitation, however, the writing is regularly beautiful and often exquisite. The arrangement of the material for stage presentation is stage wise….

The essence of the show remains its pure and perfectly captured blackness. Black language, black mannerisms, black tastes and black feelings have never been so completely and artistically presented in a Broadway theater except for Melvin van Peebles' "Ain't No Way to Die a Natural Death." This is truth, energy and strength, theater on the highest level, musical and choreographic to its roots.

Martin Gottfried, "'Rainbow' over Broadway." in New York Post (reprinted by permission of the New...

(The entire section is 9,958 words.)