“we need a god who bleeds now
whose wounds are not the end of anything”
Poetry has a way of changing the world. These changes may not be monumental or immediate, but the written word bestows an unspoken power to those who wield it. Ntozake Shange, born Paulette Williams in 1948, was a woman who fearlessly bore that power.
Best known for her choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Ntozake made a name for herself when she emerged as a playwright and poet.
In her plays and poetry, Ntozake explored controversial and difficult topics such as abuse, trauma, and racial struggles. Her experiences with the Civil Rights and antiwar movements inspired her work and her life; in addition to her creative work, she participated as an activist, supporting causes like feminism and Puerto Rican liberation. With an impressive portfolio of 15 plays, 19 poetry collections, 6 novels, and more, Ntozake filled her life with expression, delving into her own history with mental illness as well as her experiences with racism, sexism, and other injustices. Her work was often more than just poetry; it was a call to action.
I first encountered her work as a graduate student at Florida A&M University, and I immediately fell in love with the lines, “i found god in myself and i loved her/ i loved her fiercely.” I’m pretty sure this was the first time I had heard or read feminine pronouns associated with God. I was intrigued. And almost a decade later, I’m still pondering the feminine nature of God. So much so, that it is an underlying theme in much of my work as a scholar and community builder. The way I see it, God’s feminine qualities are most poignantly manifested within and throughout Black women’s bonds.
Ntozake Shange recently passed away. She had been in poor health for more than a decade, but in spite of her fragile physical condition, Ntozake demonstrated a fierce spirit, continuing to write and releasing her final poetry collection in 2017. Ntozake’s creative and activist lifestyle demonstrates the productive collaboration between literature and reality. Her work will remain a reminder of the prowess Black women can wield even when the world stands against them.