Friday, May 11, 2012

[Biography Example] Ntozake Shange: Black Feminist Novelist, Playwrite and Poet

Ntozake Shange (Oct 18, 1948) is an award winning Black feminist poet, novelist and playwright.  Given the time period of her work, she fits within the second wave of feminism. Her works include the novels Sassyfrass Cypress and Indigo, Betsey Brown and the choreopeom For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough. For Colored Girls was translated into a feature film by director Tyler Perry in 2010.

The Poetry Foundation states that Shange was,
born Paulette Williams into an upper middle-class African-American family. Her father was an Air Force surgeon and her mother a psychiatric social worker. Cultural icons like Dizzie Gillepsie, Miles Davis and W.E.B. DuBois were regular guests in the Williams home. Shange attended Barnard College and UCLA, earning both a bachelors and master degree in American Studies. Shange’s college years were difficult, however, and frustrated and hurt after separating from her first husband, she attempted suicide several times before focusing her rage against the limitations society imposes on black women. While earning a master’s degree, she reaffirmed her personal strength based on a self-determined identity and took her African name, which means “she who comes with her own things” and she “who walks like a lion.” Since then she has sustained a triple career as an educator, a performer/director, and a writer whose work draws heavily on her experiences of being a black female in America.Based on Shange's educational and family background, as a young African-American woman she was exposed to an artistic education at a very young age. For example, she was exposed to cultural icons such as Miles Davis. 
According to a biography posted on the University of Minnesota's website, Shange came to see herself and her political identity during her preteen years. The site states that,
Shange also became increasingly aware of the limits placed on Blacks and women in society. In 1956, the Williams family moved to Missouri. Being a "gifted" child, Shange was sent several miles away from home to school in St. Louis to receive special schooling. For the first time, she attended a non-segregated school. She experienced overt racism and was constantly harassed by the other students. . Seeing reality as such at an early age created a sense of displacement for Shange while becoming the motivational force behind her writing, "I started writing because there's an absence of things I was familiar with or that I dreamed about. One of my senses of anger is related to this vacancy - a yearning I had as a teenager. . .and when I get ready to write, I think I'm trying to fill that. . . " (Interview with Brenda Lyons 1986). Shange's goal became to be a part of a collection of books that someone might give to a female child (University of Minnesota).
The themes from her plays and novels are feminism, race, gender, sexuality, violence and femininity.  Shange also exhibits a very particular kind of class awareness. In an interview Edward K. Brown asked her how she felt about being upwardly mobile or middle class. Shange responded saying,
Anybody who was a slave is upwardly mobile. If you come from slavery, you are upwardly. We don’t have much choice. I think  our contribution to the labor movement, the working peoples movement in this country, has been substantial. Our contribution to the labor movement in this country has been substantial. Our contributions to all kinds of fringe benefits and to improve education for poor rural children have been substantial. None of this would have happened if we hadn’t had young black people and their families willing to sustain them during their years of professional school.
It is clear that Shange is aware of how race, class, gender and sexuality have not only had an impact on her life, but on the lives of others as well. It is also clear that Shange has an acute understanding of African American history.

Note: This is just a partial post as it is under 750 words. Your biography does not need to be exactly like this one. However, I have provided it as an example of how to separate your voice from the voice of the authors that you are citing. 

Works Cited
  • Brown, Edward K. "Ntozake Shange: Portrait of a Literary Feminist." n.d. Web. 11. May. 2012.
  • "Ntozake Shange: Voices from the Gaps." University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota, n.d. Web. 11. May. 2012.
  • "Biography of Ntozake Shange." The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web 11. May. 2012. 

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