Books by Ntozake Shange

FREEDOM'S A-CALLIN ME by Ntozake Shange
Released: Jan. 1, 2012

"Inspirational pairings of art and verse to read and recite in tribute to those who walked that perilous road. (Picture book/poetry. 12 & up)"
One slave is the poetic voice for those who toil on a cotton plantation and look to the North Star, following the Underground Railroad to freedom. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Dec. 6, 2011

"Uneven but emotional, grateful and often wise."
Acclaimed playwright Shange (Ellington Was Not a Street, 2004, etc.) offers a collection of personal essays dealing with anger, pride, creativity, family, identity, mental health and love. Read full book review >
SOME SING, SOME CRY by Ntozake Shange
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 1, 2010

Lyrical multigenerational novel by playwright/author Shange (We Troubled the Waters, 2009, etc.) and her playwright/set designer sister Bayeza. Read full book review >
WE TROUBLED THE WATERS by Ntozake Shange
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 1, 2009

Obie Award-winning playwright Shange teams up with illustrator Brown in this roughly linear collection of art and poetry vignettes from the Civil Rights Movement. The first poem's title sets the chronology: "Booker T. Washington School, 1941." Thanks to the abstract nature of the artwork and the ambiguous word choices, the final poem, "Heah Y'all Come," accompanied by an illustration of the Washington Monument, could be about the famed March on Washington in 1963 or any of the gatherings since that time. The lives of everyday people are recounted alongside major figures of the day, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Although the art is rich and the poetry compelling, the lack of contextualization will make this challenging for younger readers. A case in point is the dedication page, which the author offers "to the Little Rock Nine with great appreciation"—yet instead of depicting the Nine, there is an illustration of a creek, and in the lower right-hand corner a dead body floats, face down. Worthwhile but best for older readers. (Picture book/poetry. 10-14)Read full book review >
CORETTA SCOTT by Ntozake Shange
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Jan. 1, 2009

There have been many books written about Martin Luther King Jr., but precious few about Coretta Scott King. Now the poet and painter who previously collaborated on Ellington Was Not a Street (2004) join again for a heartfelt homage that is more adulation than book-report biography. Shange strikes an emotional chord in her recitative about Scott King's youth in the time of Jim Crow, seeking inspiration from the words of a spiritual, finding a soul mate in a young divinity student and joining him on marches and protests. However, the true power of this title lies in Nelson's full-page portraits, which convey determination, fear, serenity and weariness. Words can describe segregation and marching for freedom; the images of a young Coretta and her siblings walking miles to their school or of four college students sitting in at a lunch counter speak rivers. A double-page spread of freedom marchers carrying American flags silhouetted against a yellow sky will resonate with children and linger in their minds. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
ELLINGTON WAS NOT A STREET by Ntozake Shange
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

Deeply colored paintings enrich this homage to African-American men who made history and influenced culture, including Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Dizzy Gillespie, and W.E.B. DuBois. Nelson's setting is a home, filled with the folks who made it happen, as observed by a small girl whose presence, greeting the guests or peeking around the corners, adds the child's point of view. The poetic text is spare, with only a few words on each spread, but they match the majesty of the scene. Children will need context to understand the brief lines, and happily, an author's note provides it. In bell hooks style, none of the lines or names are capitalized, nor do they have punctuation. Intended for children today who know these names as commemorative plaques on buildings or streets, the deceptively simple text reveals the feel of the Harlem Renaissance: "Politics as necessary as collards, music even in our dreams." A tribute to what these men did for African-Americans, indeed all Americans, is soulfully and succinctly stated: "Our doors opened like our daddy's arms, held us safe and loved." Exquisite. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
DADDY SAYS by Ntozake Shange
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2003

Shange's second effort for children deals with longing, memory, and ambition; unfortunately, the quality of writing is not up to the expected brilliance of the author of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Lucie-Marie, 12, and Annie Sharon, 14, live on a ranch in East Texas with their father, Tie-Down, a rancher and rodeo rider; their mother, also a rodeo rider, was killed in a rodeo accident long ago but is still sorely missed. As Tie-Down begins to spend time with a new girlfriend, the girls become jealous for their father's attention—on their own behalf and in defense of their mother's memory. Both girls are skilled riders, but Annie Sharon pushes the limits of safety—to connect with and emulate her mother, to get her father's attention, and for love of the sport. However, many of the big emotional issues are confusing: for example, does Tie-Down ignore the girls only now that he has a new girlfriend, or has he always been distant? The answer is inconsistent, which detracts from the potential emotional realism and understandable pain of either scenario. A constantly shifting narrative viewpoint dilutes individual depth and richness of character and the writing as a whole is stiff and awkward. While this could be enjoyed by rodeo and horse fans—roping, bronco busting, and barrel racing are described in detail—and fills a niche by portraying African-American girls in a western context, actively riding rodeo, as literature, it fails to score. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY by Ntozake Shange
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

This fervent but sketchy tribute to the world's best known living athlete gives young readers stylized, spray-painted views of a comic book-style superhero with hugely exaggerated muscles and, generally, an open mouth, paired to eye-glazing captions. "As a boy, he struggled to make his way in the segregated world of the PRE-CIVIL RIGHTS SOUTH." Shange makes a case for dubbing Ali a "hero for all time," but aside from a later quote of the subtitle, she mentions his way with rhyme only as a boy, and ends her account of his boxing career with 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle," seven years before his last fight. The appended chronology addresses that lack, but skips from 1981 to 1996, and refers to his Parkinson's Disease without explaining what it is—or its probable cause. Next to the strong prose and evocative art of Walter Dean Myers's Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins (2000), or the grandeur of Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words, illustrated by Brian Collier (2001), this portrait of a widely admired African-American comes off as more strident than inspirational. (Picture book/biography. 7-9)Read full book review >
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Oct. 21, 1999

paper 0-8070-6221-9 A literary buffet with treats so exquisitely sculpted that Martha Stewart would grimace with envy. Eclecticism is the key word to describe Shange's (If I Can Cook/You Know You Can, 1998, etc.) editorial selections, yet her eye for variety never overlooks the art of good writing. The short stories include real and timely treasures, such as Gish Jen's "Who's Irish?," which probes the fault lines between Chinese- and Irish-American families, and Junot Diaz's "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars," which presents a protagonist looking for love and empathy who comes up empty. The poems of the collection capture lucent insights into the human condition, brief musings on the questions involved in being human. Stand-outs among them are Marilene Phipps's "pink," which roars for identity in the narrator's struggle to hold onto one item—a pink T-shirt—that defines her, and Denise Levertov's "A New Flower," which finds hope and regeneration in a wilting sunflower. Essays by such writers as Brenda Miller ("The Date"), Laura Wexler ("Waiting for Amelia"), and Neil Davidson ("Goodbye, Johnnie Walker") round out the collection with their respective musings on courtship, role models, and life as a recovering alcoholic at the Betty Ford Clinic. Side by side with luminaries (including Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Jamaica Kincaid, Dorothy Allison, Barbara Kingsolver, and Rita Dove) are new and exciting artists whose fame awaits them. The only portion to be skipped is Shange's regrettable introduction, which piles on platitudes about the ancient human urge to depict. The blend of the familiar with the novel is one among many reason Shange's collection remains so compelling to the very end. Read full book review >
IF I CAN COOK/YOU KNOW GOD CAN by Ntozake Shange
HISTORY
Released: Feb. 25, 1998

A decidedly episodic and savory blend of memoir and cookbook, by the playwright and novelist (Lilianne: Resurrection of the Daughter, 1994, etc.). Alternating recollections of time spent in Cuba, Nicaragua, the Caribbean, and Brazil, as well as descriptions of her life in various regions of the US, with a variety of straightforward and appealing recipes (from French fried chitlins to Brazilian hominy and chicken-fried steak), Shange weaves together a book that is both a celebration of the nourishing symbolism of food and community in African-American and Caribbean life (``a true connection to the past and what is to be as well as all that went between'') and a gentle introduction to the craft of preparing wholesome food. Too scattered to be a memoir and too eccentric to serve as a thorough cookbook, If I Can Cook is nonetheless an entertaining and deeply personal celebration of African-American cuisine and the life (and history) it represents. Read full book review >
WHITE WASH by Ntozake Shange
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

Shange (for adults, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, 1977, etc.) based the Carnegie Medalwinning video—here turned with startling success into a cutting picture book with the cels as illustrations—on a series of true incidents. Helene-Angel's day in a mixed-race elementary school proceeds typically until she's walking home behind her brother, Mauricio, ``so I wouldn't be mistaken for his girl, you know.'' The Hawks, a white gang, knock Mauricio aside and spray-paint Helene-Angel's face white. At home, Grandma cleans her up and allows her sanctuary in her room, whispering comforting words through a closed door as the incident is publicized outside Helene-Angel's window. After a week, Grandma insists that she open the door ``and be strong.'' Believing herself an embarrassment, Helene-Angel opens the door to find her whole class there, smiling and pledging support before they sweep her onto the street and off to school. Seeing Mauricio hanging back ``like a dog with his tail between his legs,'' Helene-Angel grabs his hand: ``You know, we've got a right to be here, too''—a somewhat formal assertion, given the raw emotion that has informed the rest of the book. The book's a shocker, and it means to be. Young readers will be demolished by what happens to Helene-Angel, and reassured by the reactions and behavior of her grandmother and classmates. (Picture book. 7-10) Read full book review >
LILIANE by Ntozake Shange
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 10, 1994

Poet, playwright, and novelist Shange (Betsey Brown, 1985, etc.) offers a portrait of a young black woman's growing-up in her characteristic confessional-mosaic style, but with a deeper and more contemplative cast than in her earlier works. Liliane Lincoln was raised as a child of privilege in the Eastern Seaboard's upper-middle-class black community, the daughter of a judge who expected her to attend a good university, marry well, and carry on the struggle for respectability in a racist world. Though she has indeed become an intelligent, passionate visual artist, Liliane finds herself still struggling to untie the psychic knots engendered by her father's defensiveness, the fears and prejudices of her social milieu, and, most importantly, the death of her beautiful mother when Liliane was a child. Only through a series of probing therapy sessions does Liliane begin to realize that her mother didn't die but left her family for a white man, and that her father preferred to pronounce his wife dead than to acknowledge this fact. Liliane's sessions with her therapist alternate with the colorful, impressionistic recollections of her best friends: Bernadette Reeves, a scrappy New Jersey girl who describes Liliane's high-class social life with a mixture of envy and outrage; Roxie Golightly, a Southern belle who dreams of a rich husband but is murdered by her Cuban lover; Lollie Malveaux, Liliane's earthy cousin, who views the secretive Lincoln family with healthy skepticism; and Lollie's sister, Hyacinthe, whose vengeful fantasies of murdering white ``crackers'' land her in an asylum. Liliane adds her own vivid evocations of such former lovers as Jean-RenÇ, a luscious Guadaloupean concert pianist; Victor-JÇsus Mar°a, a Puerto Rican with radical political views; and Sawyer Malveaux III, a rebellious son of old Creole money who is shot to death in East St. Louis. The result is a multifaceted portrait of a complex young woman—and a multicultural generation—coming of age in America. Flamboyant, passionate, and richly textured—an original and memorable work. (First printing of 85,000; author tour) Read full book review >