Ntozake Shange

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Ntozake Shange
Born Paulette L. Williams
(1948-10-18) October 18, 1948 (age 65)
Trenton, New Jersey
Residence Brooklyn
Nationality American
Alma mater Barnard College
University of Southern California
Occupation Playwright, Author
Known for For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf
Home town Trenton, New Jersey
Parents Paul T. Williams, Eloise Williams

Ntozake Shange (phonetically n-to-zaki shan-gay;[1] born October 18, 1948) is an American playwright, and poet.[2] As a self-proclaimed black feminist, she addresses issues relating to race and feminism in much of her work.

Shange is best known for the Obie Award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

She also wrote Betsey Brown, a novel about an African-American girl who runs away from home. Among her honors and awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, and a Pushcart Prize. Shange lives in Brooklyn, New York.[3]

Early life[edit]

Shange was born Paulette L. Williams[1] in Trenton, New Jersey[4] to an upper-middle-class family. Her father, Paul T. Williams, was an Air Force surgeon, and her mother, Eloise Williams, was an educator and a psychiatric social worker. When she was aged 8, Shange's family moved to the racially segregated city of St. Louis. As a result of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, Shange was bused to a white school where she endured racism and racist attacks.

Shange's family had a strong interest in the arts and encouraged her artistic education. Among the guests at their home were Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and W. E. B. Du Bois.

When Shange was 13, she returned to New Jersey, where she graduated fron Trenton Central High School.[5] In 1966 Shange enrolled at Barnard College. She graduated cum laude in American Studies, then earned a master's degree in the same field from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. However, Shange's college years were not all pleasant. She married during her first year in college, but the marriage did not last long. Depressed over her separation and with a strong sense of bitterness and alienation, she attempted suicide.[6] In 1971, having come to terms with her depression and alienation, Shange changed her name. In Xhosa, Ntozake means "she who has her own things" (literally "things that belong to her") and Shange means "he/she who walks/lives with lions" (meaning "the lion's pride" in Zulu).[4]


In 1975, Shange moved to New York City, where in that year her first and most well-known play was produced — For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. First produced Off-Broadway, the play soon moved on to Broadway at the Booth Theater and won several awards, including the Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and the AUDELCO Award. This play, her most famous work, was a 20-part poem that chronicled the lives of Black women in the United States. The poem was eventually made into the stage play, was then published in book form in 1977, then made into a movie in 2010 (For Colored Girls, directed by Tyler Perry). Since then, Shange has written other successful plays, including an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), which won an Obie Award.

In 2003, Shange wrote and oversaw the production of Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines: Layla's Dream while serving as a visiting artist at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Her individual poems, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Black Scholar, Yardbird, Ms., Essence Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, VIBE, and Third-World Women.[7]


  • NDEA fellow, 1973
  • Obie Award
  • Outer Critics Circle Award
  • Audience Development Committee (Audelco) Award
  • Mademoiselle Award
  • Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop Award, 1978
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, 1981 (for Three Pieces)
  • Guggenheim fellowship, 1981
  • Medal of Excellence, Columbia University, 1981
  • Obie Award, 1981, for Mother Courage and Her Children
  • Nori Eboraci Award
  • Barnard College, 1988
  • Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund annual writer's award, 1992
  • Paul Robeson Achievement Award, 1992
  • Arts and Cultural Achievement Award
  • National Coalition of 100 Black Women (Pennsylvania chapter), 1992
  • Taos World Poetry Heavyweight Champion, 1992, 1993, 1994
  • Living Legend Award, National Black Theatre Festival, 1993
  • Claim Your Life Award
  • WDAS-AM/FM, 1993
  • Monarch Merit Award
  • National Council for Culture and Art
  • Pushcart Prize[8]


  • Tony
  • Grammy
  • Emmy award nominations (all 1977, all for For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf)



  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1975) Nominated for a Tony Award, Grammy Award, and Emmy Award.
  • A Photograph: Lovers-in-Motion (1977). Produced Off-Broadway at the Public Theater.
  • Boogie Woogie Landscapes (1979). First produced at Frank Silvera's Writers' Workshop in New York, then on Broadway at the Symphony Space Theatre.
  • Spell #7 (1979). Produced Off-Broadway at Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater.
  • Black and White Two Dimensional Planes (1979).
  • Mother Courage and Her Children (1980). Produced off-Broadway at the Public Theater. Winner of a 1981 Obie Award.
  • Three for a Full Moon (1982)
  • Bocas (1982). First produced at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
  • From Okra to Greens/A Different Kinda Love Story (1983).
  • Three views of Mt. Fuji (1987). First produced in San Francisco at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre; first produced in New York at the New Dramatists.
  • Daddy Says (1989).
  • Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon (1977)
  • A Photograph: A Study of Cruelty (1977)
  • Mother of Courage and Her Children (1980)
  • Whitewash (1994)


  • Melissa & Smith (1976).
  • Natural Disasters and Other Festive Occasions (1977)
  • Nappy Edges (1978)
  • A Daughter's Geography (1983)
  • From Okra to Greens (1984)
  • Ridin' the Moon in Texas: Word Paintings (St. Martin's Press, 1987)
  • The Love Space Demands (a continuing saga) (St. Martin's Press, 1987)
  • A Photograph: Lovers in Motion: A Drama (S. French, 1977)
  • Some Men (1981)
  • Three Pieces (St. Martin's Press, 1992)
  • I Live in Music (1994)
  • The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family (Atria Books, 2004). Photography by Kamoinge Inc
  • Enuf
  • With No Immediate Cause
  • you are sucha fool
  • People of Watts (first published in Nov 1993 in VIBE Magazine)
  • Blood Rhyhms
  • Poet Hero


  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf (Shameless Hussy Press, 1976)
  • Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982)
  • Betsey Brown (St. Martin's Press, 1985)
  • The Black Book (1986, with Robert Mapplethorpe).
  • Liliane (1995)
  • Some Sing, Some Cry (2010) (with Ifa Bayeza)

Children's books[edit]

  • Coretta Scott (2009)
  • Ellington Was Not a Street (2003)
  • Float Like a Butterfly: Muhammad Ali, the Man Who Could Float Like a Butterfly and Sting Like a Bee (2002)
  • Daddy Says (2003)
  • Whitewash (1997)


  • See No Evil: Prefaces, Essays & Accounts, 1976–1983 (1984)
  • If I Can Cook You Know God Can (1998)


  1. ^ a b Ntozake Shange Biography (1948–), Film Reference
  2. ^ Lester,N: "At the Heart of Shange's Feminism: An Interview", Black American Literature Forum, 24(4): 717–730
  3. ^ Felicia R. Lee, "A Writer’s Struggles, on and Off the Page," New York Times, September 17, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  4. ^ a b http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~cybers/shange2.html
  5. ^ The Ultimate New Jersey High School Year Book. 
  6. ^ Lynette Holloway, "Interview With An Author: Ntozake Shange Returns to the Spotlight With Epic Novel and Film Adaptation of Groundbreaking 'For Colored Girls'", BV on Books, October 15 2010.
  7. ^ Blackwell, H: An Interview with Ntozake Shange," Black American Literature Forum, 13(4): 134–138.
  8. ^ http://galenet.galegroup.com.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu
  • Thomson, Gale. (2007). "Ntozake Shange". In Contemporary Authors Online. April 2008.
  • Weaver, A . A. (2005). "Ntozake Shange Biographical Information". In Women of Color, Women of Words. April 2008.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]