poem index

About this poet

Poet, performance artist, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange was born Paulette Williams on October 18, 1948, in Trenton, New Jersey. She earned a B.A. in American Studies from Barnard College in 1970, and then left New York to pursue graduate studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. It was during this time that she took the name "Ntozake" ("she who comes into her own things") "Shange" ("she who walks like a lion") from the Zulu dialect Xhosa. She received an M.A. in American Studies from USC in 1973.

Her many books of poetry include Ridin' the Moon in Texas: Word Paintings (St. Martin's Press, 1987); From Okra to Greens (Coffee House Press, 1984); A Daughter's Geography (St. Martin’s Press, 1983); Three Pieces (1981), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Nappy Edges (1978); Natural Disasters and Other Festive Occasions (1977); and Melissa & Smith (1976).

Among her plays are Daddy Says (1989); Spell #7 (1985); From Okra to Greens/A Different Kinda Love Story (1983); A Photograph: Lovers-in-Motion (1981); and the renowned for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (1977), which won an Obie Award and received Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award nominations. The play, or "choreopoem", became an instant classic. Performed by an ensemble of seven African-American women, the play is comprised of monologues, movement, and poems that together describe the pain and struggle women face because of racism and sexism.

 

The theatre critic Clive Barnes wrote about the play, "This is true folk poetry. It springs from the earth with the voice of people talking with the peculiarly precise clumsiness of life. It is the gaucheness of love. It is the jaggedness of actuality" (The New York Times, June 2, 1976).

About her writing, the poet Ishmael Reed said, "No contemporary writer has Ms. Shange’s uncanny gift for immersing herself within the situations and points-of-view of so many different types of women."

She is also the author of multiple children’s books and prose works, including Some Sing, Some Cry (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), If I Can Cook You Know God Can (1998), See No Evil: Prefaces, Essays & Accounts, 1976-1983 (1984), Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo: A Novel (1982), and The Black Book (1986, with Robert Mapplethorpe).

Among her numerous honors are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and a Pushcart Prize. Shange lives in Brooklyn.

My Father Is a Retired Magician

Ntozake Shange, 1948
(for ifa, p.t., & bisa)

my father is a retired magician
which accounts for my irregular behavior
everythin comes outta magic hats
or bottles wit no bottoms & parakeets
are as easy to get as a couple a rabbits
or 3 fifty cent pieces/ 1958

my daddy retired from magic & took
up another trade cuz this friend of mine
from the 3rd grade asked to be made white 
on the spot

what cd any self-respectin colored american magician
do wit such a outlandish request/ cept
put all them razzamatazz hocus pocus zippity-do-dah
thingamajigs away	cuz
colored chirren believin in magic
waz becomin politically dangerous for the race
& waznt nobody gonna be made white
on the spot      just
from a clap of my daddy's hands

& the reason i'm so peculiar's 
cuz i been studyin up on my daddy's technique
& everythin i do is magic these days
& it's very colored
very now you see it/ now you
dont mess wit me
                 i come from a family of retired
sorcerers/ active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers
wit 41 million spirits critturs & celestial bodies  
on our side
              i'll listen to yr problems
              help wit yr career     yr lover     yr wanderin spouse
              make yr grandma's stay in heaven more gratifyin
              ease yr mother thru menopause & show yr son
              how to clean his room

YES YES YES		     3 wishes is all you get
     scarlet ribbons for yr hair
        benwa balls via hong kong
           a miniature of machu picchu

all things are possible
but aint no colored magician in her right mind
gonna make you     white
        i mean
	       this is blk magic
you lookin at
	         & i'm fixin you up good/ fixin you up good n colored
& you gonna be colored all yr life
& you gonna love it/ bein colored/ all yr life/ colored & love it
love it/ bein colored/

Spell #7 from Upnorth-Outwest Geechee Jibara Quik Magic Trance Manual for Technologically Stressed Third World People

From Nappy Edges by Ntozake Shange. Copyright © 1972 by Ntozake Shange. Reprinted by permission of Russell & Volkening as agents for the author. All rights reserved.

Ntozake Shange

Poet, performance artist, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange was born Paulette Williams