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CLA JOURNAL 111 Ntozake Shange: A Cultural War Correspondent—An Interview Elizabeth Brown-Guillory Ntozake Shange, a performance and literary icon, confided during our May 25, 2000 interview in Houston, Texas that, as a little girl, she dreamed of becoming a war correspondent. She, then, reflected that she had become a cultural war correspondent. Indeed, she used her pen to revolutionize the American stage with her 1976 Broadway award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,her choreopoem about women of the rainbow struggling valiantly to survive horrific violation and to chart new paths to safety and success. She was a provocative taker of risks in her powerful storytelling that helped to change the world’s perceptions of women who emerge stronger as a result of raising their voices and insisting on agency. Her creative expressions dismantled notions that women were going to remain silent about mental, physical, and emotional abuses heaped upon them by their fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers, and friends. Her poetry, prose, fiction, and stage work over four decades created a space for women to give full expression to their tribulations and triumphs. Shange’s women refuse to cower and feel sorry for themselves; instead, they battle back to take their next seemingly impossible step forward. Shange’s legacy includes a blueprint for women to take responsibility for healing themselves. When the women in for colored girls perform the laying-on-of-hands ritual and conclude, “I found God in myself & I loved her fiercely,” it becomes poignantly clear that Shange’s message is that next to God, women are their own best saviors. In 1980 when Trudier Harris invited me to write one of the first [if not the first] biocritical essays on Shange for the Dictionary of Literary Biography (1983), I eagerly accepted the invitation. I had completed my dissertation that same year and had included Shange in my study of black women playwrights. Over the years, I continued to communicate with Shange about her work and hosted her visit to the University of Houston (UH) in 2000, a familiar institution to her since she had been on faculty in the School of Theatre from 1984-1986. During our three-hour conversation—which occurred while she was an Associate Professor of English (1997-2001) at Prairie View A&M University, an historically black university—we discussed her creative process, her principal influences, her evolution as a storyteller, her commitment to experimenting with art forms, her passion for international travel to connect with Blacks in countries that once enslaved them, her advice to emerging writers, her connection to Cuba and other Spanish-speaking people of the African Diaspora, her passion for 112 CLA JOURNAL Elizabeth Brown-Guillory exploring the intergenerational history of Black music, and her life-long advocacy for women. There is no other American playwright, past or present, whose work has galvanized women of all races and ethnicities and from all stages of life. Her work continues to resonate with women who draw immense strength from the words of Ntozake Shange, the quintesssential cultural war correspondent. Elizabeth Brown-Guillory: Why do you write? Ntozake Shange: I don’t really know now. There are so many things about ourselves that we don’t know—so much about us that’s been unexplored and our rupture from Africa to here . . . for us not to be able to read and write for so many years created a void that I think needs to be filled. So I write because there’s emptiness in our history. Brown-Guillory: Very thoughtfully put. What do you see are some connections between reading,writing,and teaching? I’m sure you think about those connections in your current faculty position as associate professor at Prairie View A&M University? Would you recommend to aspiring playwrights that it’s important to read first to develop a model? Shange: Absolutely! Oh, one of the problems I had with the Creative Writing Program at Houston [University of Houston] was that some of my students wanted to be writers, but they didn’t read so I didn’t understand why they wanted to be writers if they didn’t read. It was a vigorous conflict...


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pp. 111-131
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