The Kennedy Center

Ntozake Shange


Best known for the first play she wrote in 1975, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake Shange produced the series of twenty poems in the play that is categorized as a drama of self-celebration, and a tribute to black women who have a sense of self. It was first performed off-Broadway, and later ran on Broadway. The play won a number of awards including the Obie; Outer Critics Circle; the Mademoiselle, and the Audelco awards. It also was nominated for the Tony, Grammy and Emmy. Since her initial success, Ms. Shange has written a number of other plays, including Mother Courage and Her Children, which won an Obie in 1981.

Ms. Shange was born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey in 1948. In 1971 she changed her name to Ntozake Shange, which means "she who comes with her own things" and "she who walks like a lion" in Zulu language, in an attempt to reinforce her inner strength and to redirect her life. She grew up in an upper-middle-class family, becoming an avid reader of great authors such has Jean Genet, Herman Melville and Langston Hughes. Through her parents, she met renown musicians and singers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Josephine Baker.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in American studies from Barnard College in 1970, and was awarded a Master's degree also in American studies in 1973 from the University of Southern California. From 1972 to 1975, she taught humanities, women's studies and Afro-American studies at Sonoma State College, Mills College and University of California Extension. Concurrently, she was dancing and reciting poetry with, among other artistic companies, her own company called For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, a name that reflects her multiple attempts to commit suicide following the breakup of her marriage in 1967.

She has published several volumes of poems including "Sassafras: A Novella" in 1977 and "Nappy Edges" in 1978. In 1994 Ms. Shange wrote a children's book, "I Live in Music", and her latest book is "Lilliane: Resurrection of the Daughter". Recently, she received favorable reviews for her direction of For Colored Girls at the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas.
Ntozake Shange