Alumni CLASnotes Fall 2002

Ntozake Shangé Brings a Voice of Hope



Ntozake ShangéThe name "Ntozake Shangé" means "she who brings her own things." To UF, Shangé brings a long and celebrated career as one of the world's foremost black feminist poets. With great pride, the university welcomes the renowned poet to campus as a visiting professor in African American Studies and the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Shangé is best known for her choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, which became the first collection of poetry translated onto Broadway when it opened in New York's Booth Theatre in 1976.

"I was just looking at issues that concerned women at the time," Shangé says. "Humiliation, child abuse, rape, fantasy, the historical exploitation of women and the joys that are found in childhood." Shangé wrote about abortion before it was legal and rape before people talked about it. She took on the issue of women's rights, long before many black women had the courage to do so. The production earned her off-Broadway's greatest honor--the Obie Award--and was nominated for a Tony, Grammy and Emmy.

Shangé wrote a little poetry as a teenager, including a piece about Vietnam. But it was not until she enrolled in Barnard College that she really became interested in the art form. In the 1960s, Shangé attended the all-woman university located in New York City. She became actively involved in the black power movement on campus and participated in demonstrations. "I found my college to be liberating," she says. "The time was so violent and giddy with liberation and pride in black people, that I wanted to be a propagandist for the black power movement. That's what got me started writing again; I wanted to do something to free our people and I knew art was one of those elements."

Shangé has produced five plays and published four children's books, three novels, one cookbook and four books of poetry. A children's book she authored about the childhood of Muhammad Ali called Float Like a Butterfly is currently being turned into a movie by Disney Studios to be included in the "Jump at the Sun" series.

This academic year, Shangé is serving as a visiting professor at UF and is working on a new choreopoem called Lavender Lizards & Lilac Landmines that will premiere at the university April 4-13, performed by UF theater students. "All the characters are poets, and they're talking to us as poets about what poets want and what happens to us and what we take joy in and what gives us pain," Shangé says. "I can't tell you more because that will give it away."

Shangé is jointly appointed between the African American Studies program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Theatre and Dance in the College of Fine Arts. She is also affiliated with the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research. She has spent the fall semester working on the choreopoem and will teach Poetry by Women of Color in the spring.

--Buffy Lockette


Photo:
Jane Dominguez

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