For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf- Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange is an expert of controlling the language of her life, as made clear in her choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf.  Ntozake created the term “choreopoem” in an effort to combine poetry, dance music, performance and theatre into one art form.  There was no recognized form of art that Ntozake felt could encompass her work, which led to the development of the choreopoem.

In direct opposition to the Literary Canon, Ntozake created something modern and unique.  Within the poem, she breaks conventional norms of grammar, spelling, diction and formatting.  She is able to take control of her own writing by creating her own genre and style according to her own needs and the issues she confronts in the poem.  She demonstrates that compelling literature does not need to follow traditional ideals of literature.  It seems appropriate that Ntzake would employ her own style of writing, as the issues she addresses were radical and groundbreaking at the time.  The choreopoem strives to detail each woman’s truth through authentic experiences.  The following passage exemplifies modern-story-telling style in describing the lady in yellow’s first sexual experience:

bobby started lookin at me


he started looking at me real strange

like i waz a woman or something/

started talking real soft

in the backseat of that ol buick


by daybreak

i just cdnt stop grinning (Ntzanke 10)

The choreopoem is, in fact, 20 poems that are told, danced, sung, and acted out by seven women, from seven different American cities, wearing seven different colors.  The significance of the ladies origin and array of colors is minimal throughout the choreopoem.  The ladies are never named beyond the color each one wears, which allows the audience to see them as metaphors for all women.  The ladies discuss different aspects of their lives, using informal language and colloquial diction.

Each woman deals with a separate issue, including, but not limited to: domestic violence, love, rape, abortion, sex and personal freedom.  The beauty of the seven women being nameless is that they act symbolically to represent women everywhere.  Each of their stories confronts real social problems facing women all over the world.  Although the choreopoem addresses colored girls in particular, a person of any race can relate to the experiences of the women.  One of the most compelling passages is the lady in blue’s account of an abortion:

eyes rollin in my thighs

metal horses gnawin my womb

dead mice fall from my mouth

i really didn’t mean to

i really didnt think I cd

just one day off…

get offa me alla this blood

bones shattered like soft ice-cream cones (ntzake 22)

Despite the severity of the issues the women face, Nzatke succeeds in showing a vulnerable side of women while at the same time writing an empowering and uplifting novel, and at the end of the poem, the women come together to celebrate their inner beauty.  The ladies finish their performance in song, singing “i found god in myself and I loved her” (Ntzake 63), which emphasizes the powerful message of the choreopoem.

The ladies demonstrate what it means to be a person of color, or any person for that matter, and confront identity issues.  The theme is centered on feminism and empowering women, and the significance of taking a feminist stance in society transcends color and background.  However, Ntzake does make a point to specifically address people of color.  This seems to be as much a literary as political decision, as there are few widely recognized literary pieces that are written by people of color for people of color.  Ntzake fights for the survival of her people in her poetry.  She fights for people of color, for women, for freedom, for release from societal norms, and, perhaps most importantly, she fights for the liberation of the self.

As a Caucasian, I appreciate Ntzake’s choice to center the book around women of color.  However, I think that in keeping with her rainbow metaphor, it would be equally as provocative to have seven women of all ethnicities.  If I were to make the poem live today, I would use seven women of different ages, race and religion.  Each would be in a different style of dress, from traditional Muslim attire to conservative pant-suits to sexual and revealing dresses.  I think that in order to demonstrate Ntzake’s point that there is a god to be worshipped within each person, each woman should fully embrace her own heritage and culture—whatever that may be.

Furthering my role as director of the performance, I would cast women who all had very powerful and compelling stage presences, voices that projected loudly and rudely at times, while whispering and singing softly in between.  The text gives appropriate cues as to lighting, acting, songs, dance, and I think those are the only necessities.  If the words are to create emotion, they need to speak for themselves.  Therefore, I would not clutter the stage with unnecessary props and costumes.

The stage would be simple darkly stained wood, the theatre small and intimate.  The lighting would be soft, except for a spotlight that would capture the individual speaker.   For the finale, color filters would be placed over the lights to create a rainbow of light across the stage and audience.  I would try to make the setting as personal and interactive as possible, in order to fully engage the audience and capture their emotions.  I would title my interpretation of the choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow is Enuf/ For White Girls—too.


Shange, Ntozake. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow is Enuf. New York: Scribner Poetry, 1975


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