Long before filmmaker Tyler Perry turned her most famous work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf into a star-studded cinematic revival, Ntozake Shange emerged as a heroine to legions of Black women who identified with the characters presented in her 1975 choreopoem. Born out of the sort of pain that caused the celebrated writer to attempt suicide following a failed marriage in the 1970s, the award-winning play, and most recently, Shange’s epic family saga Some Sing, Some Cry, have earned her a cult-like following among fans drawn to her unflinchingly honest commentary on race and feminism. Though for the past 30-plus years the playwright has dedicated her life to creating discussion around pressing-yet-often-ignored issues impacting women from all walks of life, Shange, born Paulette Williams, can’t help but reflect on her own private struggle to recognize her power.
“I never knew I had power,” the 63-year-old author explains of her formative years as a military brat in Trenton, New Jersey. “It was a long time before I recognized power in myself. When [after I became famous] people started saying I was powerful and I said, “What do you mean?” I was trained to believe I wasn’t powerful. I was [brought up] to think I [should want only] to become a good doctor’s wife.”
Shange, who admits she feels the least powerful when she is “lonely,” says through her work she feels like she can do anything.”
“When I’m writing or on stage is when I feel my most powerful,” she says. “I can feel it in my bones. I feel the power racing through my blood. Power for me is obtained through physical acts.”
For the women who have trouble accessing their own power, Shange has this advice: “Set up a time to write in a journal every day for 15 minutes without editing yourself,” she advises. “Build your way up to one hour a day over the course of 90 days. Write down your grocery list, laundry list, whatever will get you started at first,” she says. “And when you get used to the idea that you’ll do this every day, you’ll find that other ideas about yourself and your abilities will begin to show up. For me it’s ideas for shows and books. The point is to release the power within you that has gone unspoken.”
Ntozake Shange will be one of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Legacy Award Winners at this year’s Women of Power Summit, taking place February 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. Not able to join us this year? Tune in for our live streaming every day from the event! Starting with our Legacy Awards ceremony at 9pm on Wednesday, February 23rd, we give you inside access to some of our honorees, keynote speakers, panels, experts and events. Just visit blackenterprise.com/wps now to register!
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