Last Monday afternoon, after switching up my schedule, I nervously went to the Nuyorican Poets Café website to purchase tickets. I had postponed a conference call and changed my dinner plans, yet I wasn’t even sure if there were still tickets available for Ntozake Shange’s rare appearance that night at the legendary hot spot for spoken word, poetry and music. I clicked “1-Ticket” and sho nuff my card was charged $12 to see the woman who had penned “for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf,” “Nappy Edges,” “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo,” and “Liliane.” She’s currently working on creating a play or some sort of live performance piece based on Liliane and decided that she would share what she and her ensemble were working on in front of a live audience. I was amped like party speakers at a Boogie Down block party. I was finally going to see, in person, one of my writing idols!
After all the hullabaloo with Tyler Perry’s movie adaptation– For Colored Girls, I didn’t know what to expect from the audience at Nuyorican and I didn’t even know what to expect from sister Shange. The only image I had of her was from her book flaps– her café au lait skin, her long blondish locks and that soft knowing smile. On November 15th I walked into a packed room at Nuyorican Poets Café and I stood by the bar. With a racing heart, I looked over at the stage and saw HER. Sitting barefoot on a couch in a beautiful custom-made hot pink and black jumpsuit with feather earrings and long gold painted fingernails, Zake, as her friends like to call her, looked just a lil older rocking a baldy, but was still oh so fly!
She was joined on stage by a singer, a couple of instrumentalists and a male actor who was amazing. The rapport between Ntozake Shange, which means “she who has her own things who walks/lives with lions” and this fine thespian was a slow simmer that at times boiled, baked and even burned with street talk, sex and salsa. Hearing about a gringa negra, coconut milk & ‘clits dat glowed in the dark,’ reminded me of Ntozake Shange’s futuristically urban voice. Afroed-space. Milky way matanzas.
My favorite line of the night came early on when Ntozake, as Liliane, declared, “I don’t turn men off I turn them down.” Yeah, Zake is gully like that!
I’ve only read half of Liliane, but because of that reading I’m now starting it again. Looking at my book I noticed one of my favorite passages highlighted:
That depends on what you mean by success. Is the Negro going to be really free at say midnight tonight, no. Are we going to be free of the insanity of Jim Crow by dawn, absolutely not. But you girls have to realize the freedom you wage your most serious battle for is your very own mind. No white man on this earth has the power or the right, for that matter, to control a single inch of your brain. Your minds, girls, are the first battlefields for freedom.
Ya, yayyyyaaaaaa, nya zo!!!!!! (sorry reading that always causes me to speak in tongues).
Hearing Ntozake’s voice was also enlightening. She didn’t sound as I thought she would. She had had a stroke and that made her pronunciation, at times, a lil unsteady, but her tone was always warm, sharp and soothing at the same time. It was balm. Can’t imagine how good she probably sounds reading her famous choreopoems.
During the Q&A session many things were revealed:
* Someone asked Ntozake what she had to say to “the puritans” who hated Tyler Perry’s film. She said that they would probably be happy with the version that’s coming to Broadway next year!
* She is interested in bringing Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo to the big screen and is working on a screenplay now.
* When asked how she feels about For Colored Girls relevance today, Ms. Shange answered: “What makes me sad is that the issues in “For Colored Girls” are still relevant today.”
* Ntozake Shange is especially interested in doing something with Liliane because it is her only character that she feels is stuck. (“I’m trying to move her… hopefully to the stage.”) Also through Liliane she’s able to explore mental health & Black folk: “With over 400 years of slavery and oppression, it’s no wonder Black folk and mental health is such a huge issue. I want to open the darkroom.”
Here is Ntozake at Nuyorican in 2008 for the premiere of “Mad Woman”: