Ntozake Shange Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What does the meaning of Ntozake Shange’s name suggest about the themes of her works?

What image of men is conveyed in for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf?

What role is played by visual images in Shange’s poetry?

How does Shange examine discrimination within African American communities?

How does Shange blend the characteristics of urban and rural African American cultures?

How does Shange employ Black English to support her themes and develop her characters?

What is Shange saying about male-female relationships in A Photograph: Lovers in Motion?

How is music central to Shange’s works?

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ntozake Shange’s three genres—plays, poems, and novels—so overlap that one might say she has invented a new genre, which she has named the “choreopoem.” She has published several volumes of poetry, including Nappy Edges (1978), parts of which were included in her 1975 play for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf; Natural Disasters and Other Festive Occasions (1979); A Daughter’s Geography (1983); Ridin’ the Moon in Texas: Word Paintings (1987); and I Live in Music (1994). Among her novels are Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo (1982) and Betsey Brown (1985). She has gathered writings about her work from 1976 to 1984 into See No Evil: Prefaces, Essays, and Accounts, 1976-1983 (1984), the study of which is essential to an understanding of her art.

Shange has also distinguished herself as a director, of both her own work and that of others, notably Richard Wesley’s The Mighty Gents in 1979. In 1980, Shange adapted Bertolt Brecht’s Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (1941; Mother Courage and Her Children, 1941), changing the scene from mid-seventeenth century Europe to post-Civil War America, making the protagonist an emancipated slave doing business with the army oppressing the Western Indians, and changing the language to black English.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ntozake Shange’s work embodies a rich confusion of genres and all the contradictions inherent in a world in which violence and oppression polarize life and art. These polarizations in Shange’s work both contribute to her artistry and complicate it. She has been criticized and praised for her unconventional language and structure, for her almost religious feminism, and for her stand on black/white and male/female issues. Her first play, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, produced in 1976 by Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, was honored in that year by the Outer Critics Circle, which consists of those who write about the New York theater for out-of-town newspapers. That play also received Obie and Audelco Awards as well as Tony and Grammy Award nominations in 1977. Shange’s 1980 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children won one of the The Village Voice’s Obie awards. Among her many other awards are a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry and a Pushcart Prize.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. A good study of Shange, along with Alice Childress and Lorraine Hansberry. Focuses on for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf and the 1979 trilogy Spell No. 7, Boogie Woogie Landscapes, and A Photograph: Lovers in Motion.

Effiong, Philip Uko. In Search of a Model for African American Drama: A Study of Selected Plays by Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, and Ntozake Shange. New York: University Press of America, 2000. Analyzes the historical and sociopolitical considerations that determine the choices made by each dramatist.

Lester, Neal A. Ntozake Shange: A Critical Study of the Plays. New York: Garland, 1995. Lester examines critically Shange’s contributions to the American stage, suggests aspects of her work for further study, and contextualizes Shange’s drama within appropriate literary traditions.

Olaniyan, Tejumala. Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American, and Caribbean Drama. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Study of English-speaking dramatists that gives special attention to Amiri Baraka, Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, and Ntozake Shange....

(The entire section is 510 words.)