When asked by the author Alexs Pate in a 2009 interview whether she was conscious of a through-line in her body of work, Ntozake Shange said no. But she went on to say that her goal in all her work was to make African-American women the centers of the universe.
In this episode, we look back on the legacy of Ntozake Shange who died in October 2018. First, we travel back in time to bring you an excerpt of Author Alexs Pate’s conversation with Shange as part of The Givens Foundation for African American Literature’s NOMMO Series at the University of Minnesota, where she spoke in April 2009. Then, Lissa’s conversation with Sarah Bellamy, Artistic Director of Penumbra Theater, on the artist’s legacy and producing For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf in 2018.
The multi-hyphenate Shange (poet-playwright-author-artist) is best known for the chore-poem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf (1976), which uses a combination of poetry, drama, and dance to explore the experiences of Black women in America, and was only the second work created by a Black woman to run on Broadway. Shange is also the author of many other works, including Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982), Betsey Brown (1985), and Lilane (1994).
In the same year that Shange’s seminal work premiered on Broadway, Sarah Bellamy’s father, Lou Bellamy founded The Penumbra Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The theater was founded with the mission of creating a theater that foregrounds the experiences of African-Americans by creating space dedicated to performing their work. 42 years later, Penumbra is guided by Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy who strives to continue the theater’s mission, each year performing both classic works of African-American artists and new work by emerging artists. Penumbra is recognized as one of the top regional theaters in the country, and is one of only three professional African-American theaters in the US. We spoke to Sarah about staging Ntozake Shange’s work earlier this year, and the lasting impact and continued relevance of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf.
Go Deeper: Inside the Episode
Listen to the full audio of Ntozake Shange’s NOMMO appearance (approx. 2 Hours). On the recording you’ll hear introductions from University Librarian and Dean of Libraries Wendy Pradt Lougee, Archie Givens, Jr., and Alexs Pate. Then Shange’s full reading, which also features Shange’s friend and fellow artist Claude Sloan. Finally, Shange’s interview with Alexs Pate:
Learn more about NOMMO, a series of readings and talks with Black writers presented by The Given’s Foundation for African American Literature and the University of Minnesota:
Learn more of about Penumbra Theatre – Minnesota’s only professional African-American theater – including past work and upcoming projects:
*Title quote from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf