Page 1


f覺ercely memy upbones in her branches i wanted to jump took up outta

i sat up one nite walkin a boardin house i found god in myself that chill at daybreak it waz too much the sky laid over me like a million men

screamin/ cryin/ the ghost of another woman

made me dawn dew & be done wit myself

i found god in myself & i loved her held me in the breeze leave me alone

wit my tears leave me alone & endlessly weavin garments for the moon & go on in the wind

felli loved into her a numbness & i loved iher/ fiercely

the sun wrapped me up swingin rose light everywhere

i waz cold/ i waz burnin up/ a child who waz missin what i was missin

tilgod thein only tree i cd i found myself & i loved her see collected works by Ntozake Shange compiled and edited by Caroline Hartig

L o v e H e r Fi e r c e ly

I found God in myself /

and I loved her /

I loved her fiercely.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, 1975

Table of Contents


On Music

i live in music / ellington was not a street

On Heritage senses of heritage / people of watts

On Love sorry / you are sucha fool

On African Identity blood rythms - blood currents - black n blue stylin / my father is a retired magician /bocas: a daughter’s geography

On Women

with no immediate cause / enuf / resurrection of the daughter

WE troubled the waters a collection of poems about the Civil Rights era

Shange on Shange New York Times article A Writer’s Struggles, On and Off the Page. Felicia R. Lee (2010).


Ntozake Shange is a playwright, novelist

and poet. As an African-American as well as a feminist, the focus of her work centers around racial and women’s issues.   Shange was born Paulette Williams in October, 1948. Although a native of Trenton, New Jersey, her family moved to Missouri when she was very young. Having been recognized as a gifted student, she was sent to a special school in St. Louis, Missouri. It was her first time attending a racially integrated school, and it was here that she was first subjected on a more intimate level to racism and racially-motivated cruelty from a South still unreceptive of desegregation. Williams credits these early experiences with racism as powerful motivators for her later works. “I started writing because there’s an absence of things I was familiar with or that I dreamed about,” she stated in an interview in 1986. “One of my senses of anger is related to this vacancy - a yearning I had as a teenager.”   Williams moved back to New Jersey to complete high school. Upon graduation, she was accepted into Barnard College in New York City, where she graduated cum laude with a Bachelors of Art in American Studies.

She then went on to earn a Master’s degree in the same subject from the University of Southern California.   At the young age of nineteen, while still at Barnard, Williams fell in love with and married a law student. Not long after, the two split, and Williams attempted to commit suicide by holding her head inside of a gas oven. This would be the first of many, fortunately unsuccessful, attempts.   In 1971 Paulette Williams changed her name to Ntozake Shange. The name comes from the South African languages Xhosa and Zulu: Ntozake meaning “she who has her own things,” and Shange, “she who walks with lions.” Shange’s name change was a testament to her belief in the power of language. “I’m a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act,” she revealed in an interview in 1990, “And how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives.”   In 1974 Shange moved to New York City, and a year later she penned her most important and celebrated work: a collection of 20 poems combined with music and dance. Dubbed a “choreopoem,” her play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow


is Enuf follows the intertwining lives of seven African-American women referenced only by the colors of their garments; the Lady in Red, the Lady in Purple, and so on. The poetic narrative tackles very dark issues including rape, abortion and domestic violence, but concludes with a message of the power of womanhood. “I found God in myself and I loved her,” is the mantra her characters chant in the final scene, “I loved her fiercely.”   Although it was originally produced as an independant, off-Broadway show, just one year later it was performed on Broadway. It went on to win a Tony nomination and several awards including the Obie Award, an honor given to off-Broadway theater productions by the New York City based newspaper The Village Voice.   In addition to language itself, Shange drew much of her inspiration from music. With avid music afficionados for parents, she grew up surrounded by all genres of music, as well as a number of famous musicians. During her childhood she met Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few of her parents’ talented and well-known dinner guests. “I’d listen to music and hear that they


were saying at the same time,” she told a San Francisco Chronicle interviewer in 2006, “So I was always integrating the two things.” Her father, a surgeon, liked to listen to salsa music while doing his medical charts; she followed suit by listening to rhythms from Latin America while she completed homework assignments. It is this habit that she cites as the key to her “ability to work musically with language.”   Shange currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. Her most recent work was a collaborative project with her younger sister, Ifa Bayeza. She describes their novel, “Some Sing, Some Cry,” as a “complicated, thoughtprovoking depiction” of multiple generations of an African-American family, spanning from the Reconstruction Era to contemporary times. True to form, it delves into racial and feminist issues, with an underlying theme of the power and influence of music. Her preferred style of writing is one that captivates her audience in an undulation of surging and subsiding emotions. “The most important thing,” Shange believes, “is to be able to recognize these feelings, feel them, survive them and name them.”

i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips and a upright bass for both sides of my heart.

i live in music

on Music

i live in music

i live in music is this where you live?

i live here in music i live on c# street my friend lives on b-flat avenue do you live here in music sound falls round me like rain on other folks saxophones wet my face cold as winter in st. louis hot like peppers i rub on my lips thinkin they waz lilies


i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips & a upright bass for both sides of my heart i walk round in a piano like somebody else be walkin on the earth i live in music live in it wash in it i cd even smell it wear sound on my fingers sound falls so fulla music ya cd make a river where yr arm is & hold yrself hold yrself in a music


ellington was not a street

it hasn’t always been this way ellington was not a street robeson no mere memory du bois walked up by father’s stairs hummed some tune over me sleeping in the company of men who changed the world

it wasn’t always like this why ray baretto used to be a side-man & dizzy’s hair was not always gray i remember

i was there

i listened in the company of men 16

politics as necessary as collards music even in our dreams our house was filled with all kinda folks our windows were not cement or steel our doors opened like our daddy’s arms held us safe & loved children growing in the compnay of men old southern men & young slick ones

sonny was not a boy the clovers no rag-tag orphans our crooners/ we belonged to a whole world


nkrumah was no foreigner virgil akins was not the only fighter it hasn’t always been this way ellington was not a street


a horizon strewn with bones and flesh of those of us who didn’t make it whose smiles and deep dark eyes help us to continue to see

people of watts

On Heritage

senses of heritage

my grandpa waz a doughboy from carolina the other a garveyite from lakewood I got talked to abt the race & achievement bout color & propriety/ nobody spoke to me about the moon

daddy talked abt music & mama bout christians my sisters/ we always talked & talked there waz never quiet trees were status symbols


I’ve taken to fog/ the moon still surprisin me


people of watts

where we come from, sometimes, beauty floats around us like clouds the way leaves rustle in the breeze and cornbread and barbecue swing out the backdoor and tease all our senses as the sun goes down.

dreams and memories rest by fences Texas accents rev up like our engines customized sparkling powerful as the arms that hold us tightly black n fragrant reminding us that once we slept and loved to the scents of magnolia and frangipani once when we looked toward the skies 24

we could see something as lovely as our children’s smiles white n glistenin’ clear of fear or shame young girls in braids as precious as gold find out that sex is not just bein’ touched but in the swing of their hips the light fa llin cross a softbrown cheek or the movement of a mere finger to a lip many lips inviting kisses southern and hip as any one lanky brother in the heat of a laid back sunday rich as a big mama still in love with the idea of love how we play at lovin’ even riskin’ all common sense cause we are as fantastical as any chimera or magical flowers where breasts entice and disguise the racing pounding of our hearts


as the music that we are hard core blues low bass voices crooning straight outta Compton melodies so pretty they nasty cruising the Harbor Freeway blowin’ kisses to strangers who won’t be for long singing ourselves to ourselves Mamie Khalid Sharita Bessie Jock Tookie MaiMai Cosmic Man Mr. Man Keemah and all the rest seriously courtin’ rappin’ a English we make up as we go along turnin’ nouns into verbs braids into crowns and always fetchin’ dreams from a horizon strewn with bones and flesh of those of us who didn’t make it whose smiles and deep 26

dark eyes help us to continue to see there’s so much life here.


you make me feel like a cheetah a gazelle something fast and beautiful you make me remember my animal sounds.

you are sucha fool

On love


one thing i don’t need is any more apologies i got sorry greetin me at my front door you can keep yrs i don’t know what to do wit em they dont open doors or bring the sun back they dont make me happy or get a mornin paper didnt nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars cuz a sorry


i am simply tired of collectin i didnt know i was so important toyou i’m gonna haveta throw some away i cant get to the clothes in my closet for alla the sorries i’m gonna tack a sign to my door leave a message by the phone ‘if you called to say yr sorry call somebody else i dont use em anymore’ i let sorry/ didnt meanta/ & how cd i know abt that take a walk down a dark & musty street in brooklyn


i’m gonna do exactly what i want to & i wont be sorry for none of it letta sorry soothe yr soul/ i’m gonna soothe mine

you were always inconsistent doin somethin & then bein sorry beatin my heart to death talkin bout you sorry well i will not call i’m not goin to be nice i will raise my voice & scream & holler 32

& break things & race the engine & tell all yr secrets bout yrself to yr face & i will list in detail everyone of my wonderful lovers & their ways i will play oliver lake loud & i wont be sorry for none of it


i loved you on purpose i was open on purpose i still crave vulnerability & close talk & i’m not even sorry bout you bein sorry you can carry all the guilt & grime ya wanna just dont give it to me i cant use another sorry next time you should admit you’re mean/ low-down/ triflin/ & no count straight out

steada bein sorry alla the time

enjoy bein yrself 34

you are sucha fool

you are sucha fool/ i haveta love you you decide to give me a poem/ intent on it/ actually you pull/ kiss me from 125th to 72nd street/ on the east side/ no less you are sucha fool/ you gonna give me/ the poet/ the poem insistin on proletarian images/ we buy okra/ 3 lbs for $1/ & a pair of 98 cent shoes we kiss we wrestle you make sure at east 110 street/ we have cognac no beer all day you are sucha fool/ you fall over my day like a wash of azure 36

you take my tongue outta my mouth/ make me say foolish things you take my tongue outta my mouth/ lay it on yr skin like the dew between my legs on this the first day of silver balloons & lil girl’s braids undone friendly savage skulls on bikes/ wish me good-day you speak spanish like a german & ask puerto rican market men on lexington if they are foreigners


oh you are sucha fool/ i cant help but love you maybe it was something in the air our memories our first walk our first... yes/ alla that

where you poured wine down my throat in rooms poets i dreamed abt seduced sound & made history/ you make me feel like a cheetah a gazelle/ something fast & beautiful you make me remember my animal sounds/ 38

so while i am an antelope ocelot & serpent speaking in tongues my body loosens for/ you

you decide to give me the poem you wet yr fingers/ lay it to my lips that i might write some more abt you/ how you come into me the way the blues jumps outta b.b.king/ how david murray assaults a moon & takes her home/ like dyanne harvey invades the wind


oh you/ you are sucha fool/ you want me to write some more abt you how you come into me like a rollercoaster in a dip that swings leaving me shattered/ glistening/ rich/ screeching & fully clothed

you set me up to fall into yr dreams like the sub-saharan animal i am/ in all this heat wanting to be still to be still with you in the shadows all those buildings all those people/ celebrating/ sunlight & love/ you 40

you are sucha fool/ you spend all day piling up images locations/ morsels of daydreams/ to give me a poem

just smile/ i’ll get it


aint no colored magician in her right mind gonna make you white i mean this is blk magic

my father is a retired magician

On African identity

my father is a retired magician

my father is a retired magician which accounts for my irregular behavior everythin comes outta magic hats or bottles wit no bottoms & parakeets are as easy to get as a couple a rabbits or 3 fifty cent pieces/ 1958

my daddy retired from magic & took up another trade cuz this friend of mine from the 3rd grade a s k e d t o b e m a d e w h i t e on the spot


what cd any self-respectin colored american magician do wit such a outlandish request / cept put all them razzamatazz hocus pocus zippity-do-dah thingamajigs away cuz c o lored chirren b elie vin in m a gic wa z b ec omin po litic a lly d a ngerous for t he r a c e & waznt nobody gonna be made white on the spot just from a clap of my daddy’s hands


& the reason i’m so peculiar’s cuz i been studyin up on my daddy’s technique & everythin i do is magic these days & it’s very colored very now you see it/ now you dont mess wit me i come from a family of retired sorcerers/ active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers wit 41 million spirits critturs & celestial bodies on our side


i’ll listen to yr problems help wit yr career yr lover yr wanderin spouse make yr grandma’s stay in heaven more gratifyin ease yr mother thru menopause & show yr son how to clean his room


3 wishes is all you get

scarlet ribbons for yr hair benwa balls via hong kong a miniature of machu picchu


all things are possible but aint no colored magician in her right mind gonna make you white i mean this is blk magic you lookin at & i’m fixin you up good/ fixin you up good n colored & you gonna be colored all yr life & you gonna love it/ bein colored/ all yr life/ colored &

love it love it/ bein colored/ 48

blood rhythms blood currents black n’ blue stylin’

Fragrant breezes in the South melt to melodies round small fires mount tree limbs with bodies black and swayin’ black n croonin’ songs of sunsets comin’ from the fields bawdy brazen hard to put yr finger on like the blues like the strum of guitars on dark damp 50

southern nights hard to put your finger on like screams in the black bloody southern soil sweet black blood echoin’ thru the evenin’ service grindin’ by the roadhouse door sweet black blood movin’ with slow breath


outta breath young negroes run to pick up a bale of cotton run to flee southern knights crosses bare blazin’ signals black bloods gone runnin’ for Chicago for the hollow for the C.C. Rider for the new day sweet blocked melodies ache in young girls’ throats rip thru their lips like the road to freedom was lit all lit up with the grace of God and Sears Tower the Ford plane and Pontiac’s vision all lit up sleek fires sheddin’ the haunts of poll taxes and test questions like where is America 52

cost a finger a ear a heart a teardrop fa llin’ from the saggin’ front porch to the project stairway from the water fountain to the chain gang

the night train carried smuggled goods news of struttin’ signifyin’ fellas with gold teeth neath they feet and brawny sway for blocks and blocks far as the eye cd see from Biloxi to Birmingham the contraband of freedom seeped thru the swamps


the air hung heavy with the cries of “ain’t

gonna let nobody turn me round”

and young boys in nice-cut suits who was awready standin’ with they heads up awready prancin’ with finesse and grand stature like men wit eyes don’t never look down men wit eyes burstin’ wit glory from the red sedans and the seats in schools to the right to set wherever they want and when the sounds of the harmonica was slowed by snarlin’ dogs and hoses 54

when the washboards and bottleneck players was skedattlin’ out the bullets way up came a roarin’ force a light blue controlled fire in un-mussed lame´ pleated silk and faces bearin’ no scars to say “we ain’t been touched” we the sweet black fires of dreams & of unobfuscated beauty

like the trails of freedom the Good Lord himself lit up we gonna take this


new city neon light sound volumes for milliom to hear to love themselves enough to turn back the pulse of a whippin’ history make it carry the modern black melody from L.A. to downtown Newark City f r e e d o m buses f r e e d o m riders f r e e d o m is the way we walk that walk talk that talk gotta take that charred black body out the ground switch on the current to a new sound 56

to a new way of walkin’ a new way of talkin’ blues

electrified blues boltin-the-lynchin-tree n-tremblin-n-chirrenblues defyin the sound of gravity

for a people singin’ about the sashay of blood rhythms set free.



a daughter’s geography i have a daughter/ mozambique i have a son/ angola our twins salvador & johannesburg/ cannot speak the same language but we fight the same old men/ in the new world

we are so hungry for the morning we’re trying to feed our children the sun but a long time ago/ we boarded ships/ locked in depths of seas our spirits/ kisst the earth on the atlantic side of nicaragua costa rica our lips traced the edges of cuba puerto rico 58

charleston & savannah/ in haiti we embraced & made children of the new world b u t o l d m e n s p i t o n u s / shackled our limbs but for a minute our cries are the panama canal/ the yucatan we poured thru more sea/ more ships/ to manila

ah ha we’re back again everybody in manila awready speaks spanish

the old men sent for the archbishop of canterbury “c a n w h o l e c o n t i n e n t s b e e x c o m m u n i c a t e d ?” “what wd happen to the children?” “wd their allegiance slip over the edge?” “don’t worry bout lumumba/ don’t even think bout ho chi minh/ the dead cant procreate”


so say the old men but I have a daughter/ la habana I have a son/ guyana our twins santiago & brixton/ cannot speak the same language yet we fight the same old men


the ones who think helicopters rhyme with hunger

who think patrol boats can confiscate a people the ones whose dreams are full of none of our children the see mae west & harlow in whittled white cafes near managua/ listening to primitive rhythms in jungles near pĂŠtionville with bejeweled benign nativess ice skating in abidjan unaware of the rest of us in chicago all the dark urchins rounding out the globe/ primitively whispering

the earth is not flat old men 61

there is no edge no end to the new world cuz I have a daughter/ trinidad I have a son/ san juan our twins capetown & palestine/ cannot speak the same language/ but we fight the same o l d m e n the same men who thought the earth waz flat go on over the edge/ go on over the edge o l d m e n


you’ll see us in luanda, or the rest of us in chicago rounding out the morning/ we are feeding our children the sun


and now she stood a reglar colored girl fulla the same malice livid indifference as a sistah


On women

with no immediate cause every 3 minutes a w o m a n i s b e a t e n every five minutes a woman is raped/every ten minutes a lil girl is molested yet i rode the subway today i sat next to an old man who may have beaten his old wife 3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago he might have sodomized his daughter but i sat there cuz the young men on the train might beat some young women later in the day or tomorrow


i might not shut my door fast every 3 minutes it happens some woman’s innocence rushes to her cheeks/pours from her mouth like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn apart/their mouths menses red & split/every three minutes a shoulder is jammed through plaster and the oven door/ chairs push thru the rib cage/hot water or boiling sperm decorate her body i rode the subway today & bought a paper from a man who might have held his old lady onto a hot pressing iron/i don’t know maybe he catches lil girls in the park & rips open their behinds with steel rods/i can’t decide what he might have done i only


know every 3 minutes every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/so i bought the paper looking for the announcement the discovery/of the dismembered woman’s body/the victims have not all been

today they are n a k e d a n d d e a d /refuse to identified/

testify/one girl out of 10’s not coherent/i took the coffee


& spit it up/i found an announcement/not the woman’s bloated body in the river/floating not the child bleeding in the 59th street corridor/not the baby broken on the floor/ there is some concern that alleged battered women might start to murder their husbands & lovers with no immediate cause�

i spit up

i vomit i

am screaming

we all have immediate cause every 3 minutes every 5 minutes every 10 minutes 69

every day women’s bodies are found in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink coffee/i must know/ have you hurt a woman today did you beat a woman today throw a child across a room are the lil girl’s panties in yr pocket

did you hurt a woman today i have to ask these obscene questions 70

the authorities require me to establish immediate cause

every three minutes every five minutes every ten minutes

every day.


at 4:30 AM she rose movin the arms & legs that trapped her she sighed affirmin the sculptured man & made herself a bath of dark musk oil egyptian crystals & florida water to remove his smell to wash away the glitter to watch the butterflies melt into suds & the rhinestones fall beneath her buttocks like smooth pebbles in a missouri creek layin in water



she became herself ordinary brown braided woman with big legs & full hips reglar seriously intendin to finish her night’s work she quickly walked to her guest straddled on her pillows & began you’ll have to go now /


i’ve a lot of work to do / & i cant with a man around / here are yr pants / there’s coffee on the stove / it’s been very nice / but i cant see you again / you got what you came f o r / didnt you’ & she smiled he wd either mumble curses bout crazy bitches or sit dumbfounded while she repeated æi cdnt possibly wake up / with a strange man in my bed / why dont you go home’ 74

she cda been slapped upside the head or verbally challenged but she never waz & the ones who fell prey to the dazzle of hips painted with orange blossoms & magnolia scented wrists had wanted no more than to lay between her sparklin thighs & had planned on leaving before dawn & she had been so divine devastatingly bizarre the way her mouth fit round 75

& now she stood a reglar colored girl fulla the same malice livid indifference as a sistah worn from supportin a wd be hornplayer or waiting by the window & they knew & left in a hurry she wd gather her tinsel & jewels from the tub & laugh gayly or vengeful she stored her silk roses by her bed & when she finished writin


the account of her exploit in a diary embroidered with lilies & moonstones she placed the rose behind her ear & cried herself to sleep. 77

the family had been ill for some time quarantined/ socially restricted to bridge & Sunday brunch by the pool the mother called her daughters twice a day

resu r



of th

e da



she s av ed the s o n for em erg encies


the father drove around a lot there were no visible scars under the daughters’ biba eyes lay pain like rachel’s/ the rage of zelda delavallades’ pirouettes in stasis the daughters cd set a formal table curtseys if no descendants of slaves & speak english with no accent at all they were virgins for a long time one waz on punishment for a month

cuz she closed her eyes while dancin on the wrong side of town mama who came from there/ knew too well a cheap pleasure cd spell remorse for an upwardly mobile girl & the girl learned well/ she paid for her lovers with her suffering 79

never knowing some love is due you she waved her tears in her lover’s face the more there were/ the more they were worth the son looked down on these things his women did his laundry & his cooking but they were not crying the father waz also not crying he waz with ulcers & waited on the cliffs where his daughters’ lovers prayed for his demise dyin to be the heads of a sick household the lovers o the daughters wrought pain deception & fear wherever they turned & the son dept his distance the mother called him in emergencies/ occurred all the time t h e d a u g h t e r s b e li e v e d t h e y w e r e u g ly d u m b / d a r k like hades/like mud/ like beetles/ & filth the mother washed all the time & kept her kitchen 80

clean the father wore perfumes/ thot sex a personal decision

a daughter convinced her beauty an aberration her love a fungus/ her womb a fa ntasy loft eh asylum of her home on a hinch she wd find someone who cd survive tenderness she wd feed someone who waz in need of her fruits she wd gather herself an eldorado of her own makin a space/ empty of envy/ of hate she a daughter refused to answer her mother’s calls she refused to believe in the enmity of her sisters the brother waz callt to see to the emergency the father bought a new stereo & she was last seen in the arms of herself


blushing having come to herself in the heat of herself

daughters wait for the wounded to scream themselves to death daughters choosin to be women lick their wounds with their own spit


til they heal


We Troubled the water Compiled in 2009, “We Troubled the Water” is a children’s book of poems inspired by the everyday heroes of the Civil Rights Era who fought tirelessly and triumphantly for justice.

To the Little Rock Nine, with much appreciation.

Ntozake Shange

Booker T. Washington School, 1941

was only one room for all the eager brown faces / hair braided neatly or parted down the side / the black and brown children had faith this day / why less than a century ago they’d have hung or burned alive for learning the read and write but thanks to Booker T. schools for our children were sprouting up every which way & teachers from Tuskegee were not only on their way / but pledging to have each black child know how to spell her name “m-a-t-t-i-e j-o-h-n” sure nough be able to vote one day imagine one day the world at their fingertips through 88

language / up ye mighty race challenged Marcus Garvey and ‘long with their victory gardens / our children were ready to grow


eager to learn

bright eyes / books in hand they simply want a place to learn but who’ll take two little negro girls they’re no danger / no threat why threaten they right to learn


cleaning gal

if they catch me sittin / jus’ for a moment i might lose this heah job / but i can’t ‘ford to do that all my children / matt, maceo, bertha, mae, sunshine, and the baby ‘long with ma / look to me for vittles and shelter it’s just that i got to scrub all these floors til they’d look like glass / that takes all day and i still aint got to the laundry yet / boilin clothes / starchin shirts / Lawd have mercy i got to spend all day tomorrow ironin so the missus and her mate can go to some bigshindig / sponsin i quit / how we gonna eat / no i aint goin nowhere / & there ain’t no fancy duds or dancin in my future just scrubbin and scrubbin what aint mine


garbage boys

sometimes there’s bone with meat left on em / or a day old biscuit steeped in butter or honey best be careful not to cut yourself / glass down there too never understand / how folks throw away what’s still good to eat / expect we gonna fill these pails with dry old leaves fore we feed our stomachs


water fountains

it’s lucky for them they could read “colored” & “white” signified who could drink water from where they were a bit puzzled it was just water but it was against the law to get confused & have the white boy drink from the colored or the colored drink from the white a serious crime under Jim Crow


where i live

call them shotgun houses cause you could shoot straight through them / got 13 folks livin here / a good gas-burnin stove / wasn’t always like that / papa says usedta be wood / & handmade quilts kept us warm / now we got newspaper on the walls to keep out the drafts / and mousetraps for other things/ found a special place for me to sleep / right neath the kitchen table / ever so warm & smellin so good / great grandma got the best bed / the rest of us share like we do everything / no time for fightin 94

m a s a y s t h e w o r l d i s c r u e l e n o u g h must always keep some lovin at home / no matter how folks look at us / we still a family


crying trees

the throng of heavy boots crumblin / dry leaves dimpled with blood and sweat has disappeared / only God now looks upon the work of human gone towards Satan’s door / some mothers’ sons peek through t h e l a n d s c a p e o f c ru elt y a n d vibr a n t gr een confusin us / playin tricks with our senses / h o w c a n o u r b o y s b e s o m e d e c o r a t i o n s i n t h e f o r e s t / never to kiss good night again / never to hold other sons in their arms again / cut em down now if we dare / how long are we to gaze on our gifts taunting the loveliness of livin / cut em down 96


when we are round each other / gramma uncle joe susie and mack / we people / we folks laughin & chattin / talkin bout old times out there in the night alone we aint nothin we aint people we animals roadkill


you vote / you die!

we go to vote & the white folks laugh “you won land round here?” “who were the last 20 presidents” “who was the head of the confederacy?” “you mockin the confederacy of these united states?” “count backward from 100” “can you read and write?” or your mark’ll have to do after that somebody finds a body “you vote / you die”


the ku klux klan

for generations they terrorized us burned crosses houses bodies and marched into the night to bring fear to the front door of any & every negro / their meetins were circuses with cakes and candies / and someone hangin from a noose / the cowardice was obvious / could be the banker / the butcha / the mechanic / all covered in white so no one knew who they were / they took no responsibility for the heinous reign of death they dealt / hatred died hard death & t h e K l a n a i n t d e a d y e t


thank you Rosa Parks

bastin stitches runnin stitches hemmin stitches cotton pickin cuttin cane nursin babies standin in the back of the bus we were all there whether the white section in the front was empty or not thank you Rosa parks for sittin down cause you was tired & they handcuffed you & dragged you away cause you were tired, dear Rosa Parks you were all of us who are tired of beatins, fired, police & havin nowhere to rest 100

Martin Luther King, Jr.

millions of denigrated / humiliated negroes / without enough food / land / schools / or shoes always walkin in fear / walkin out of the way of white folk / or the watch of the KKK / who could be the butcha the judge / the fireman / whisperin to each other / fearin their dreams meant / d e a t h

heard a rousin young voice outa Birmingham sayin stand up / you

got a right to

be American / stand up and morally challenge those who seek to keep you crawlin on your knees / Martin Luther King brought a faith and fight to the negroes who’d been cowed / knowin full well “i might not 102

get there with you� / & he did not / but his spirit of belief and nonviolence carried the rest of us onward / out of the darkness/ out of peonage / & into dignity


Brother Malcolm his recuits / convicts / addicts / prostitutes not church ladies with big hats & gardens malcolm found a garden of black folks i n t h e t h r o w a w a y s o f t h e n e g r o & called the white man / the devil which many believed already / told us we’d been lied to / we weren’t joneses calhouns and williamses / those were slave names / hence “X” the Fruit of Islam was there to protect us / not the cops the Nation of Islam was there to prepare us to take care of our own / not Safeway / it was the ballot or the bullet / Malcolm wasn’t playin / he prayed on his knees only before


Allah / h e d i d n ’ t g i v e a d a m n w h a t a white man thought of him


sittin down is standin up

‘long with the aroma of hot dogs & burgers / was the stench of venom & hatred / the cowardice of many gainst a few / their arms this time / broken eggs smeared tomatoes / mustard & ketchup just to let us know / w e w e r e n ’ t w e l c o m e to eat at the five & dime / or anywhere else aWHITES


sign held sweay / we sang

spirituals / and held our heads high / till the cops came to take us away / trespassin / they say but more of us will / till the W H I T E S signs come down



and we marched

we took the children / women / teenagers & elders / hand in hand & we marched / from the blessed steps of the churches to the doors of city hall we marched w e m a r c h e d through water hoses past snarlin dogs / under nightsticks and just out the sights of rifles but we marched w e m a r c h e d cause freedom buses burned w e m a r c h e d cause cars disappeared w e m a r c h e d cause this is our land too was time somebody knew


the pray-in

they were standin with nightsticks & guns ensurin peace at a pray-in like the might of God was gonna strike them down / kneelin hats in hand / humble and white & black together they were w r a p p e d i n f a i t h and the knowledge that God looked after his children even in the face of Caesar or Bull Connor



calm evening / one blarin shot outa nowhere who knew that Lorraine would not just be some girl’s name / but a memory burnin in the souls of millions Andy Young / Ralph Abernathy / conjurin up the sermon the night before / Martin claimin “i might not get there with you” and then the shot the gut-wrenchin cries the nation afire rage & love underestimated we pleaded for nonviolence / they didn’t listen & the cities went crazy Martin oh Martin


heah y’all come now the children run freely toward each other knowin no fears of the other so what? she’s brown and her lips thick so what? yarmulkes atop their heads Buddha’s smile graces their faces now America welcomes all the babies sí sí / t o d o s l o s n i ñ o s a r e o u r s yes yes / wa alaikum salaam & the gods watch over all children & the flag protects each American all


Shange on shange Ntozake Shange reflects on her career and work in the 2010 New York Times interview A Writer’s Struggles, On and Off the Page. By Felicia R. Lee.

Her feminist war cry of a play, “For Colored

Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” is Ntozake Shange’s signature work, produced on Broadway in 1976 when she was in her 20s. Now 61, her speech and movements slowed by a series of minor strokes but her intensity undimmed, Ms. Shange is having another moment, or two, this fall.   Out this week is her new novel, “Some Sing, Some Cry,” a nearly 600-page family saga written with her sister Ifa Bayeza. In early November, the long-awaited film adaptation of “For Colored Girls,” will bring that influential work to a new generation courtesy of a most unlikely director, the comedy and melodrama impresario Tyler Perry.   The film and the book each took winding paths to completion. Ms. Shange and Ms. Bayeza, 59, worked for 15 years on the complex task of jointly writing a novel that features seven generations of an African-American family sustained by one another and by music. After years of keeping in touch about the book mostly through e-mails and phone calls, they came together recently for a joint

interview in the downtown Manhattan office of their publisher, St. Martin’s Press. Ms. Bayeza, a playwright, flew in from Chicago; Ms. Shange (her name is pronounced en-tohZAH-kee SHAHN-gay) took a car service from her home in Brooklyn.   Calling each other “Zake” and “Fa” and taking turns to remember bits of family lore, the sisters also talked about how they divided the writing, often by historical eras. “Some Sing, Some Cry” moves through Reconstruction, two World Wars, the Great Migration, and the civil rights movement. Along the way the descendants of Betty Mayfield create or are inspired by jazz, blues, spirituals, rhythm and blues and other forms of music. The book concludes in contemporary times with Tokyo Walker, a famous R&B singer who embarks on a tour of Africa.   Ms. Bayeza looked concerned during the interview when Ms. Shange seemed to become fatigued and shifted to be more comfortable. Ms. Shange was content to let her sister do most of the talking — “It’s her first novel,” she said later — though she made it clear that she felt the book fills a need: “I don’t see any complicated,


thought-provoking depictions of black people in a multilayered way. That’s why I was willing to work on this for so long.”   Ms. Shange remained mum on who did what in the collaboration. She noted, though, that “each of our chapters has its own dialect, its own spelling and pronunciation of the characters’ names and also their perceptions of their skin colors.” Those variations reflect the fluidity of African-American language through the years, she said, and the power of perception.   Ms. Bayeza, who admitted that Ms. Shange wrote the opening pages and that she handled the sections having to do with war, said, “It becomes this kind of puzzle game for people to figure out where the voice shifts.” But they also did plenty of weaving, she added. Kaiama L. Glover, writing in a forthcoming review in The New York Times Book Review said the experiment largely worked, resulting in a “story of lifesaving music and heartbroken maternity” that is “engaging from start to finish.”   “Some Sing” is the first novel by Ms. Shange, who is also a prolific poet and playwright, since 1994’s “Liliane: Resurrection of the Daughter,” about a young black artist’s struggle


with racism and maternal abandonment. It gives readers “another family to turn to when things look bleak,” Ms. Shange said.   Bleak is how her own situation looked beginning in 2004. She began to have trouble with her balance and her speech and eventually received a diagnosis of having had a series of minor strokes. At her worst, she was unable to talk, read or write. Her speech is now audible but slowed, and her balance and dexterity are impaired.   Deciding to work with her sister had its genesis long before the stroke. In the 1970s a television and film producer approached Ms. Shange with the idea of a mini-series that would trace the history of black music through the role of women. Ms. Shange turned to Ms. Bayeza, whose stage works addressing black history include “Amistad Voices,” “Club Harlem,” and “The Ballad of Emmett Till.”   The two quickly sketched an outline for the arc of the story but shelved it for many years as life and other projects intervened. In the mid-’90s, they renewed the writing at the urging of Ms. Shange’s long-time editor at St. Martin’s, Michael Denneny.

“We grew up with stories like these,” Ms. Bayeza said of the novel’s tales. The sisters were raised in St. Louis and in Lawrence Township, N.J., the oldest of four children of a surgeon, Paul T. Williams, and Eloise O. Williams, a social worker and educator who also had a fondness for the arts. As young adults they jettisoned their given names for African ones.   While their parents are now deceased, the sisters can trace their father’s family line to 1757 with the arrival of two African brothers in the slave-holding territory of New Jersey. Their mother’s side was researched back to 1800 and Filis, an enslaved woman who traveled with her owners to South Carolina.   The story of how Betty Mayfield, a former slave travels to blackmail her white former owners, comes from real-life family lore, according to the sisters. Another character, Raymond Minor, reflects the life of their grandfather, a builder who passed for “black Irish” to get into the carpenter’s union in New York.   Both sisters are single now. Ms. Shange has an adult daughter and Ms. Bayeza does not have children. Their relationship is “symbiotic,”

Ms. Bayeza said, close enough that they trusted each other to write without interference from the other. Ms. Bayeza confessed that some sections were hard to write; Ms. Shange said she went with the flow.   With a hefty first printing of 100,000, a national book tour and its selection as Essence magazine’s September book club pick, “Some Sing” might bring Ms. Shange her biggest splash since “For Colored Girls.”   A series of poetic monologues (Ms. Shange called it a “choreopoem”) about domestic abuse, abortion and self-love, among other topics, “For Colored Girls” is still steadily performed on college campuses, and is widely seen as influencing a generation of spoken-word poets, playwrights and performance artists.   Ms. Shange managed “to combine femininity and feminism” and wrap it in a downtown artistic sensibility, said Lynn Nottage, a playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for “Ruined.” She described Ms. Shange as “the first AfricanAmerican female playwright I saw welcomed into the mainstream.”   For years, filmmakers talked about a movie version, but it came about courtesy of Mr. Perry,


the writer and director of a successful string of films (and television series) about AfricanAmerican life that some observers have criticized as clichéd and racially stereotypical. Much of his work has featured Mr. Perry in drag as the saucy matriarch Madea. Ms. Shange said she explicitly told Mr. Perry that Madea could not be in “Colored Girls.”   The film is scheduled to open in theaters on Nov. 5 with a starry ensemble cast that includes Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, and Thandie Newton. And no Madea.   “I think it’s very good,” was Ms. Shange’s unhesitant verdict on Mr. Perry’s adaptation. “He kept a lot of my language, that’s what I liked most.”   But that assessment came during a later telephone interview. With Ms. Bayeza that day, Ms. Shange only wanted to talk about “Some Sing” and her hope that the book captures the sweetness and pain of black family life in a language that welcomes readers.   “Mommy and Daddy told us these stories that were less like literature than somebody talking to you,” Ms. Shange said. “I think we achieved that, too.”


Resources Bayeza, I. “Zake and Me and ‘For Colored Girls’.” American Theatre v. 27 no. 10 (December 2010) p. 42-5. Bayeza, Ifa and Ntozake Shange. “Song Sing, Some Cry.” New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2010. Brown, Rod and Ntozake Shange. “We Troubled the Waters.” New York: Amistand and Collins. 2009. Hamlin, Jesse. “Ntozake Shange Weaves Tapestries of Poetry, Music, Dance in Her Search for Love’s Meaning.” The San Francisco Chronicle, 17 Feb. 2006. Web. 22 Sept. 2011. < entertainment/17283395_1_colored-girls-music-ntozake-shange>. Kosseh-Kamanda, Mafo, and Maria Zavialova. “Ntozake Shange.” University of Minnesota, 18 Jan. 2005. Web. 22 Sept. 2011. <>. Lee, Felicia R. “A Writer’s Struggles, On and Off the Page.” The New York Times, 17 Sept. 2010. Web. 22 Sept. 2011. <>. Mullen, H. “Artistic Expression was Flowing Everywhere: Alison Mills and Ntozake Shange, Black Bohemian Feminists in the 1970s.” Meridians v. 4 no. 2 (2004) p. 205-35. Nelson, Kadir and Ntozake Shange. “Ellington Was Not a Street.” New York: Simon and Shuster Books for Young Readers. 2004.


“Ntozake Shange.” 3 Mar 2011. Web. 31 Oct 2011. <> “Ntozake Shange.” 17 Mar 2011. Web. 31 Oct 2011. <> Power, W. “Catching Up with Ntozake Shange.” American Theatre v. 24 no. 4 (April 2007) p. 30-3. Shange, Ntozake. “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.” New York: Scriber, 2010.


Love Her Fiercely  
Love Her Fiercely  

Collected works by Ntozake Shange.