Barnard College Archives and Special Collections Acquires Collection of Ntozake Shange, Ph.D., Feminist, Playwright, Poet

April 27, 2016

Poet, playwright, novelist, and black feminist Ntozake Shange, Ph.D, has gifted her personal papers to the Barnard Archives and Special Collections. The 31- linear foot collection, for which the Archives anticipates accruals, demonstrates the breadth of Shange's life and career as a poet. It includes poetry written in high school, an early manuscript of her choreopoem and theatrical piece for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, and more contemporary works such as Some, Sing, Some Cry. Reflecting the diversity of Shange's artistry, the collection contains a wide variety of records types from personal diaries to artwork, to photographs from Shange's collaborative work The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African American Family.

Shange was born in Trenton, New Jersey and spent much of her childhood in St. Louis, Missouri. She attended Barnard College, graduating in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. Following Barnard, Shange continued her academic career and received a master’s in American Studies from the University of California. Throughout her career, Shange’s artwork has combined, deconstructed, and expanded the forms and genres of theatre, poetry, and fiction. She is responsible for the creation of a new form of artistic expression - the choreopoem, a mixture of poetry, dance, music, and song. Her prolific creative output includes pieces such as Spell #7 (1979),  Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), A Daughter’s Geography (1983), From Okra to Greens (1984), Sassafrass Cypress & Indigo (1982), and Liliane (1994). In addition to her life as a poet, playwright, and novelist, Shange is also an educator, director, and performer. She is the recipient of awards and honors including an Obie Award, the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

Shange decided she wanted collection to be maintained at the College because all of her formative artistic, political and intellectual experiences took place at Barnard.“I feel as though I came of age as a feminist and an artist at Barnard. I formed the basis of my critical thinking in English and history classes. I was a member of conscious-raising groups, the antiwar movement and black-student movement. I got all that I ever imagined from an all-women’s college, and I thought my archives belonged here,” Shange said.

“We are so incredibly grateful to have such a significant collection where scholars can view personal photos, letters, and annotated books that influenced her work next to published poetry and artwork to literally trace the life of a dynamic writer, like Dr. Shange,” Shannon O’Neill, Barnard College Associate Director of Archives and Special Collections, said.

The collection, which is currently open to scholars and students, has been incorporated into the year-long course, “The Worlds of Ntozake Shange and Digital Storytelling,” which is taught by Kim F. Hall, Ph.D., Lucyle Hook Chair and professor of English and Africana Studies, in partnership with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the International Center of Photography. Hall, a Shange scholar, was also instrumental in the acquisition of the collection.

Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. The Barnard library reflects its parent institution's mission, vision, and values, with particular emphases on diversity, engagement, openness, and critical thinking in a woman-centered liberal arts environment.

For more information about the Barnard Archives and accessing the Shange collection, contact Associate Director of Archives & Special Collections Shannon O'Neill 212.854.4079.