I will never forget the first time I experienced Ntozake Shange. I was a High School student in Ms. Melissa Borgmann’s Writing as Performance Class.
I remember feeling excited because the woman on the cover looked like me. I attended High School between the years of 1998 – 2002. At the time I was dealing with a lot including having survived a sexual assault at the age of 12, reuniting with my mom who spent a part of my childhood incarcerated, and at the age of 14 (the summer before starting high school), leaving one state – Missouri for another – Minnesota. Plus you add the normal coming of age stuff with hormones, falling in (and out) love, rejection, making life decisions about college, and trying to figure out who you are. It was a lot.
I found myself between the pages of Ntozake’s book. These women looked like me… they sounded like me… They also looked and sounded like women I knew – my mom, my Aunties.
This text is one of those cornerstones of influence in my life. Shange’s words affirmed who I was as a blossoming black woman, and they also provided me with the courage to discover my own voice. I wrote poetry extensively at that time (I started writing poems in middle school), and I was (and still am) an avid journal writer. I felt like I couldn’t process the many emotions and thoughts I was having until I wrote them down. Writing was therapeutic for me. It gave me power.
You can imagine my excitement when the film came out in 2010. I actually took my students to see it, after we read the text.
More than anything, I just want to thank Shange for walking in her truth as a writer. I want to thank her for writing in a genre… “the choreopoem” which defied the rules of structure at the time. I want to thank her for picking up the baton where writers like Zora Neale Hurston left off. I want to thank her for giving words to my pain, my frustration… and my hopes.
Below you will find a few poems that she inspired me to write as well as one of my graduate school Reference Letters because I actually used for colored girls for one of my undergraduate projects and my professor referenced it in his letter. I was always weaving black authors and experiences into my coursework. I usually only share my poetry with family these days, but it is fitting to put these words, inspired by Shange out in to the atmosphere. I can’t believe I was writing AND PERFORMING this stuff in High School! My maiden name is “Belcher” so that lets you know when these pieces were written. Also, Ms. Borgmann was a strong influence on my decision to become an educator, and she was also the reason why black literature was a staple in my classroom! If it wasn’t for her, I would not have met Ntozake, and the many other powerful writers she introduced me to.
I will be adding Shange to my altar in reverence after her funeral and hope that my writings, my work and my life can provide even a fraction to others of what her writings, work and life have meant to mine. You can read her obituary in Essence Magazine here.
“i found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely.”