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Ntozake Shange (pronounced En-toe-ZAHK-kay SHONG-gay) (born October 18 1948) is an African American playwright, performance artist, and writer who is best-known for her Obie Award winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. She also wrote Betsey Brown, a novel about an African American girl who runs away from home. Among her honors and awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and a Pushcart Prize. Shange lives in Philadelphia.
Shange was born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey to an upper middle class family. Her father, Paul T. Williams, was an Air Force surgeon and her mother, Eloise Williams, was an educator and a psychiatric social worker. When she was eight, Shange's family moved to the racially segregated city of St. Louis. As a result of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, Shange was bussed to a white school where she endured racism and racist attacks. Despite this, Shange's family had a strong interest in the arts and encouraged her artistic education. Among the guests at their home were Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and W. E. B. Du Bois.
When Shange was thirteen, she returned to New Jersey, where she completed high school. In 1966 Shange enrolled at Barnard College. She graduated cum laude in American Studies, then earned a master's degree in the same field from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. However, Shange's college years were not all pleasant. She married during her first year in college, but the marriage did not last long. Depressed over her separation and with a strong sense of bitterness and alienation, Shange attempted suicide.
In 1971, having come to terms to her depression and alienation, Shange changed her name to Ntozake Shange which means "she who comes with her own things" and "she who walks like a lion" in Xhosa, one of the languages of Southern Africa.
In 1975, Shange moved to New York City, where in that year her first and most well-known play was produced, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. First produced Off-Broadway, the play soon moved onto Broadway at the Booth Theatre and won a number of awards, including the Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Audelco Award. Since then, Shange has written a number of successful plays, including an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), which won an Obie Award.
In addition to her plays, she has written poetry, novels, and essays. Among her books are Sassafras: A Novella (1977), Nappy Edges, a book of poems, (1978) and three pieces (1981), a book which contains three theatre pieces. Shange has taught at California State College, the City College of New York, the University of Houston, Rice University, Yale, Howard University, New York University, and the University of Florida. She has also won a Los Angeles Time Book Prize for Poetry and a Pushcart Prize.
In 2003, Shange wrote and oversaw the production of Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines: Layla's Dream while serving as a visiting artist at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
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