From Nice Colored Girl
to Womanist: An Exploration of
Development in Ntozake Shange's
"speak up Ike, an' 'spress yo'se'f?'"
- Betsey Brown
Ntozake Shange strives to fill a void in the female literary canon. With novels such as sassafrass, cypress and indigo (SCI) in 1982 and Betsey Brown (BB) in 1985, and her dramatic choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf (FCO) in 1977, she has joined the ranks of prominent black women who are giving a voice to their sisters. Through her works, the audience is exposed to the issues facing black women as they develop into adulthood. Issues of racism and sexism must be addressed in order for her characters to grow. Although each of her characters finds a definition of herself as a black woman, the paths taken are unique to the individual. Each woman fulfills herself with a particular interest from which she derives power, be that interest music, dancing, or weaving cloth. These women must also learn to relate to and separate themselves from the men in their lives. With strength of character, Shange's women imprint themselves permanently in our memories. Shange wrote in sassafrass, cypress and indigo that the novel is dedicated to "all women in struggle." Within that statement lies the power of her writing. Her works are about black women, but they are indeed for ALL women. She uses Ebonies in a manner that does not exclude any gender, class or culture. Rather it invites all readers to enjoy as well as understand and confront issues facing us.
Shange said in a 1987 interview with Barbara Lyons for the Massachusetts Review that "unless black women are writing the pieces,