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Poet And Playwright Ntozake Shange Dies On Saturday At Age 70


When playwright Ntozake Shange's "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf" hit Broadway, it made social and literary history. At the time, Shange was in her 20s. She called "For Colored Girls" a choreopoem, a sequence of poetic monologues that spoke to the lives of seven black women with searing descriptions of racism and sexism. Some of its most famous lines read, I found God in myself, and I loved her. I loved her fiercely. "For Colored Girls" earned Shange a Tony Award nomination in the 1970s. And in 2010, when "For Colored Girls" was adapted into a film, she spoke about it with NPR's Michel Martin.


NTOZAKE SHANGE: I think this piece is my gift to women and girls forever and ever. It may not be all I have, but it's one solid thing I have to leave for girls and women around the world.

GREENE: Ntozake Shange died on Saturday at the age of 70. And joining us to talk about her is the author Tony Medina, who's a professor of creative writing at Howard University. Professor, thanks for coming in, and then sorry it's in a tough moment.

TONY MEDINA: Thank you, David. It's - you know, it's a heartbreaker, especially on the heels of what's happening in Pittsburgh.

GREENE: Yeah, my God. And I'm - just a tragic weekend in so many ways. I - can you tell me about Ntozake Shange and when you first encountered her I guess both as a person and as a writer?

MEDINA: I first encountered her when I was, you know, discovering myself as a poet as a teenager. And I was in a bookstore. And I was in the poetry section. And I came upon "For Colored Girls." And I was totally mesmerized by not only the beautiful cover of her face on the book but the title itself, "For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Was Enuf." And once I started reading it, I just could not, you know, put it down. I was totally transfixed. She put a spell on me basically.

GREENE: And then you met her, right? I mean, you came to know her.

MEDINA: And I was fortunate enough to subsequently meet her back in the early '90s when I was at the Black Arts Festival. And some of us younger poets and writers were protesting against the older generation because we were left out of a number of panels and performances. And so she was one of the elder poets who came up to us and basically reached out in solidarity and offered to mentor us. So she was very - a beautiful, generous spirit. Then subsequently, after that, I met her when I was already, you know, published. And I was hanging out at Abiodun Oyewole's apartment in Harlem. He was - he's one of the founding members of The Last Poets. And she was kind of flirting with me at that time, so it was kind of cool.

GREENE: Really?


GREENE: Well, that's - that must have been very special.


GREENE: I wonder - I mean, I love - she was laughing a little bit in the tape we played when she said that she thinks that her piece was a gift. But what do you see as the gift she has left to women and to everyone?

MEDINA: Well, I see her work as just so vivid and sensual and powerful and empowering not only for women but for all people. And I think that she's a national treasure. When she took ill, the Obamas sent her a letter to uplift her. And I think, you know, all of her work basically has been about uplifting us. And I think that it's the time that we revisit her work again.

GREENE: Tony Medina is a professor of creative writing at Howard University. He is the author of several books, including "Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Black Boy," speaking to us about the loss of the author and poet Ntozake Shange. Professor, thank you for your time this morning.

MEDINA: Thank you, David. Thank you, NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "SECRET WHISPER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.