Family Photographs: Relationships Among the Generations

Ntozake Shange

Betsey Brown

Background

  • Born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey. Decided in 1971 to take a Zulu name, Ntozake ("she who comes with her own things") and Shange ("she who walks like a lion") Moved to St. Louis at the age of eight.
  • Oldest of four children in an upper middle-class family: her father, a surgeon; her mother, a psychiatric social worker and educator.
  • Attempted suicide several times as a teenager.
  • Educated at Bernard College (B.A., 1970) and University of Southern California (M.A., 1973).

Career

  • In the 70s, taught humanities, women's studies, and Afro-American studies at Sonoma State College, Mills College, and University of California Extension and later creative writing at City College of New York.
  • Best known as a playwright. Her choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf opened in New York in 1975. Had a long run on Broadway and won many awards, including the Obie in 1977.
  • Also has written short stories and poems, performed as a dancer and poet, and given numerous reading and lectures. Currently working on a play with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which will open at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Major Writings

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (1975)
Nappy Edges, poems (1978)
Three Plays (1981)
Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo: a novel (1982)
A Daughter's Geography (1983)
Betsey Brown (1985)
Lilliane: Resurrection of the Daughter (1994)

Critical Sources and Reviews

  • For reviews of the novel, see The New York Times, May 12, 1985. ("Life Abounding in St. Louis" by Nancy Willard, [book archive search: "Betsey Brown"]
  • Interview with author in MotherJones.
  • For further biographical information, see Contemporary Authors, vol. 85-88 or the Bridges website.
  • In print: Ten Is the Age of Darkness: The Black Bildungsroman by Greta LeSeur.


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