It has been three years since the passing of the iconic playwright Ntozake Shange but her work continues to impact longtime and new readers alike.
Her Obie Award-winning choreopoem, for colored girls...who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, will forever be considered a seminal work of art that heavily influenced the Black community, and aided in expanding conversations about abandonment, abortion, and domestic violence.
She was an integral part of the Black Arts Movement, and alongside major figures such as Sonia Sanchez, Rosa Guy, Audre Lorde, and others, created new cultural institutions through activism and art that drove home the importance of Black love, beauty, and pride.
Shange’s radical take on the Black aesthetic has inspired a host of musicians like Jamila Woods, choreographers like Debbie Allen, and actors, actresses, and artists like Kadir Nelson who used unique critique and iconology to convey Black America’s desire for “self-determination and nationhood.”
To honor Ntozake Shange’s legacy, passion, humor, and raw honesty, here are five books and authors to add to your reading list ASAP!
Undeniably authentic and distilled through the prism of Black life in America, Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni’s voluminous work of poetry has been honored by national colleges, dignitaries, and the Smithsonian.
As a central figure alongside Ntozake Shange during the Black Arts and Black Rights Movement in the late 1960s, she immediately was placed alongside the giants of the era like James Baldwin and Maya Angelou. And in The Selected Poems, 1968 - 1995, Giovanni’s poetry — from the revolutionary-minded “The Great Pax Whitie” to the utterly sublime “Ego Tripping,” Giovanni delivers truth and affirmation in these chronologically arranged pieces.
As a Black woman, lover, educator, and all-around savant in speaking to America’s past and present, Giovanni continues to deliver evocative work that celebrates Ntozake Shange’s mastery.
The first Muslim American woman to medal at the Olympic Games is no stranger to competition. With her well-earned distinction as a Bronze-winning athlete in the women’s saber team event, she often received lingering stares from close-minded folksfolx who questioned if her hijab was a safety concern for their kids.
In The Proudest Blue, she recalled how those hurtful moments shaped her into the athlete that she is today. And also as an activist and public speaker, her memoir spoke to the journey that she had been on as both a religious minority in sport and as an ethnic minority in a white-dominated sport.
As one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016, Muhammad, like Shange, overcame prejudices and hazing that inspired Black America and inspired the first hijabi Barbie in her likeness to do the same for others coming of age.
The oldest child of Mississippi sharecroppers, Gloria Naylor’s stories grew to weave moving, open-hearted portrayals of Black women in America with tragic, supernatural, and omniscient perspectives. Her work created a moving and powerful portrait of how resilient, beautiful, and strong Black women are — whether it was in Brewster Place, Linden Hills, or at Bailey’s Cafe.
In each of the “Seven Stories” within The Women of Brewster Place, Naylor built upon Shange’s goal of getting readers to focus on the experience of listening to Black women and explored the lives of both men and women in terms of friendship, romantic love, and lesbian relationships. Her rooted sense of community makes The Women of Brewster Place a contemporary classic that is a touching tome to include at your next virtual book club meeting.
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4. We Want Our Bodies Back by jessica Care moore
Poet-activist Jessica Care More (stylized as jessica Care moore) has allowed her words to do the talking — and never was she concerned about how they fit in an antagonist’s mouth. A powerhouse creative, Moore’s We Want Our Bodies Back delved into pain and praise in her prose to salute Black women who fight against the patriarchal forces meant to inflict the former upon them.
Long has it been her mission, much like Shange, to craft stories that point to the importance of Black women while Moore’s work, specifically, advocates for Black joy and those underserved in the Black community. Considered a “psalm book” by the likes of Tracy K. Smith, a U.S. Poet Laureate, Moore’s 21st-century offering is a driven work of art that America desperately needs to crack open and read out loud to the entire class.
As the youngest presidential inaugural poet in American history, Amanda Gorman exploded on the scene as a bright spot in otherwise a very daunting past few years. A committed advocate for racial equality and gender justice, Gorman’s work has blown away those who were concerned about “the state of young Black America,” and showed just why the kids are alright.
Following in Shange’s legacy, this “skinny girl [who] descended from slaves” has radically challenged the stance of how a contested country such as the U.S. can make it up the “hill” of justice and assist in changing this country for the better. As Shange’s writing set her apart and established the Black Aesthetic, The Hill We Climb uses similar rhetoric to say that today’s struggles aren’t any reason to give up the hope and progress Black Americans have achieved over time.
VIDEO: Ntozake Shange Talks 'For Colored Girls' 40th Anniversary
Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @KevitoClark.