Ntozake Shange

Trenton, New Jersey
Ntozake Shange
Trenton, New Jersey


an American playwright, and poet. As a self proclaimed black feminist, much of the content of her work addresses issues relating to race and feminism.

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.

Early life

Shange was born Paulette L. Williams in Trenton, New Jersey 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 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 completed high school. 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, Shange attempted suicide.[5] In 1971, having come to terms with her depression and alienation, Shange changed her name. Ntozakhe means she who has her own things (literally things that belong to her in Xhosa) and shange means he/she who walks/lives with lions (meaning the lion's Pride in Zulu).


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 a number of 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 a number of 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.

Individual poems, essays, and short stories of hers have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Black Scholar, Yardbird, MS, Essence Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, VIBE, and Third-World Women.


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




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 Theatre.

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 Theatre.

Black and White Two Dimensional Planes (1979).

Mother Courage and Her Children (1980) Produced off-Broadway at the Public Theatre. 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


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

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)
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