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A Memoir of Coming to the Arts

by Ntozake Shange

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-20616-1
Publisher: St. Martin's

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.

The author, who also writes poetry, children’s books and novels, visits just about every human emotion in these pieces, which date from various decades in her life. In some, she employs her idiosyncratic spelling (wazenuf), capitalization (none) and punctuation (minimal), but the later pieces adhere to more conventional mechanics—though never to conventional ideas. Her anger is evident throughout—from patronizing whites to black rappers (whose misogynistic lyrics and ideas she equates with the vileness that produced slavery) to the silence of black male intellectuals, whom she accuses of sanctioning rappers’ misogyny. She writes informatively about the genesis of her most famous work of dram for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, examines her personal history for her love of language, dance and music and confesses, near the end, that she actually likes men—though she believes that most of them have one goal in mind with women. Among her most affecting pieces are two short essays about her parents, one for each. Her father was a physician, and Shange writes emotionally about his love of music and his exuberant dancing with her mother. She recalls hiding in her mother’s closet, absorbing her. She includes a promising piece about learning other languages, but spoils it with chunks of block quotations that effectively silence her voice and still her rhythm, as well as a touching poem addressed to an unnamed young poet. Along the way, Shange offers glimpses of her visits to a shrink, though she does not provide any clinical diagnosis, just some hints of malaise and unhappiness.

Uneven but emotional, grateful and often wise.