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202 CLA JOURNAL “Handle Us Warmly”: Girlhood, Community and Radical Creativity in for colored girls Janaka Lewis Given the radical and innovative ways Ntozake Shange uses form and structure, I tried to begin a formal academic essay on Shange’s representation of Black girlhood as liberation in for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, and the damn essay liberated itself. In true “somebody almost walked off wit alla my stuff” fashion, academic structure almost walked off with the “colored girls” to whom Shange dictated and dedicated this text. This article—partially reflective and partially creative response—is not only an exploration of the many ways that we can use Shange’s work intellectually, pedagogically, analytically, and critically, but also a representation of how Black girlhood studies draws from Shange’s own creativity in presenting narratives of Black womanhood. As a requiem for Shange herself and in remembrance of the stories of Black womanhood and girlhood her work encompassed, this essay argues that Ntozake Shange’s body of work, specifically for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, is a useful model for how we approach Black womanhood and girlhood in liberatory ways. Although part of the canon of Black Studies literature (and created simultaneously as Black Studies programs grew), for colored girls transcends a project that is solely within the academy. It is inherently both a community-based and creative text. Modeled on Judy Grahn’s The Common Woman, it was written, produced, and performed in community: in women’s community and in communities of color. It is, therefore, a text that demands to be read in community and with the radical creativity from which it came. Radical creativity, in this case, is represented by both the artists and the presentation of the artistic narrative itself to include those outside the mainstream spectrum of womanhood. In a context of celebrating Black women’s stories in all of their complexity, as Ntozake Shange did throughout her work, she also has contributed to Black women’s literature, namely in 1960s through 1980s, about the possibilities of living as a Black child. Although much credit has been given to Shange for bringing lives of Black women to the forefront, specifically in for colored girls, she also represents concerns for liberation for Black girls, as is evident in her assertion to handle them, and us as Black women,“warmly.” CLA JOURNAL 203 “Girlhood, Community and Radical Creativity in for colored girls” As a communal text, the choreopoem was first presented at a woman’s bar, the Bacchanal, outside of Berkeley, California with, as Shange notes, “Paula Moss & Elvia Marta who worked with me in Raymond Sawyer’s Afro-American Dance Company & Halifu’s The Spirit of Dance; Nashira Ntosha, a guitarist & program coordinator at KPOO-FM . . .[;] Jessica Hagedorn, a poet & reading tour companion; & Joanna Griffin, co-founder of the Bacchanal, publisher of Effie’s Press, & a poet. We just did it” (ix). To “just do it” did not mean that the text was conceived randomly or unintentionally, rather, that they did not wait for a perfect time or perfect moment to express the radical creativity needed at the time: December of 1974. InTheBlackWomanToniCade(Bambara)writes,“Weareinvolvedinastruggle for “liberation from the exploitive and dehumanizing system of racism, from the manipulative control of a corporate society; liberation from the constrictive norms of ‘mainstream’ culture,” as well as “from the synthetic myths that encourage us to fashion ourselves rashly from without (reaction) rather than from within (creation). What characterizes the current movement of the 60’s is a turning away from the larger society and a turning toward each other” (7). Here, Cade Bambara argues for the communal practice, specifically amongst Black women, as the salve from the harm that they endure in larger society. However, if Black women are experiencing these “exploitive and dehumanizing systems,” including the impact of “‘mainstream’ culture that restricts them from outside and within,” we can also argue that Black girls are as well. Yet, in the systematic representations that we usually see of them (counted as numbers and statistics, perhaps, but without having their stories highlighted), it is not until Black women’s writing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2766-0265
Print ISSN
0007-8549
Pages
pp. 202-212
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-01
Open Access
No
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