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Celebrating and Saying Goodbye to Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange, Reid Lecture, Women Issues Luncheon, Women's Center, November 1978.
Ntozake Shange, Reid Lecture, Women Issues Luncheon, Women's Center, November 1978. Photo credit: Barnard College

As so many cultural leaders note in the tribute obituaries we’ve linked to below, Ntozake Shange was a completely original, breathtaking artist. From the time she embraced the name gifted to her by Ndikko and Nomusa Zaba, a name which meant “she who comes with her own things/who walks like a lion,” Ntozake Shange launched headlong into her program to electrify dance, poetry, and theatre. Even when her own movement became limited, she kept her focus and worked whenever she could. We were working with her on a book to be called Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance. She was filled with ideas and ambitions, more choreographers and dancers she wanted to interview and include, some art we should commission to go in the book, some photos she would be sending. And the writing was, as she describes herself at one point, ebullient. Both Maya Fernandez and I had spoken with Zake last week; Maya was completing work on the new edition of her wonderful book If I Can Cook You Know God Can, and I wanted to check in on those photos, to begin work on the cover of the new book. All of us at Beacon were shocked and far more than saddened. But I know we all feel lucky to have shared a little bit of time with Zake, on her much too brief visit to our small planet.
—Helene Atwan, Director 

“Working with Ntozake was a privilege. I am so thankful to for the opportunity to experience her light and greatness. Like many Black women, her words held such power in my understanding of what it means to exist in this world. I am forever grateful for her. Rest easy, Ms. Shange.”
—Maya Fernandez, Editorial Assistant 

“Zake was a woman of extravagance and flourish, and she left quickly without suffering. It’s a huge loss for the world. I don’t think there’s a day on the planet when there’s not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister.”
—Ifa Bayeza, Shange’s sister, quoted in Star Tribune 

“For those of us who arrived at her words, whether as young girls or fully grown women, we found an altar erected in tribute to our stories, our traumas, and our particular way of being in the world. . . . If there is comfort to be had in her passing, it’s in knowing that she left this world having done what she intended to do: she empowered generations of girls and women—and hopefully, many more to come—with the voice to ‘sing a black girl’s song; to bring her out, to know herself.’

Thank you, Ntozake.”
—Maiysha Kai, The Glow Up on The Root  

“In her work, Ms. Shange was a champion of black women and girls, and in her trailblazing, she expanded the sense of what was possible for other black female artists.”
—Laura Collins-Hughes, Washington Post 

“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. . . . all of her work basically has been about uplifting us. And I think that it’s the time that we revisit her work again.”
—Tony Medina, professor of creative writing at Howard University, interviewed on NPR Morning Edition