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Ntozake Shange Papers

Identifier: BC20-29

Collection Scope and Content Summary

The Ntozake Shange Papers include partial manuscripts, typescripts, and computer printouts for works such as Betsy Brown, From Okra to Greens, The Lizard Series, Nomathemba, Lost in Language & Sound: A Choreoessay; Some Sing, Some Cry, and for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. The earliest piece of writing in the collection is a 1966 poem titled "They Are Safe for Now" from a high school literary magazine.

The collection contains personal correspondence from family members, friends, and collaborators, and business correspondence including royalty statements from numerous literary agents, contracts with literary agents, editorial letters, and contracts and agreements related to the film adaptation of for colored girls. Also included are Shange's diaries and agendas with known entries ranging from 1981-2010; teaching materials from the University of Florida and Prairie View A&M University; numerous awards including the Barnard Medal of Honor, an honorary degree from Oberlin College, a certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, and several City Proclamations in honor of her work.

Photographic materials in the collection are often unlabeled and are printed in a variety of formats including both color and black and white prints. Some photographic negatives also exist within the collection. Among the photographs in the collection is an album of photographic prints The Sweet Breath of Life. Shange saved a number of press clippings, flyers, and promotional materials related to her work, performances, and appearances. Additionally, there are several works or art given to and/or collected by Shange, and works of art produced by Shange, most notably art inspired by her Lizard Series. A variety of ephemera and collectables exist within the collection including a marionette, rosary beads, Kama Sutra cards, jewelry made by Shange, Shange's magnifying glass, and her writing pen.

To complement the aforementioned materials, selections from Shange's Library - chosen in concert with Barnard College Professor Kim F. Hall - are included within this collection. Many of the books - which speak directly to Ntozake Shange's interests and influences - are heavily annotated. In cases where notes, scraps of paper, receipts, book marks, etc. were in the texts, the archivists have made the decision to leave said markers. The collection also includes approximately 17GB of born digital materials on CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, DVD-RWs, 3.5 inch floppy disks, and on a MiniDV. Documents within these digital materials include photographs, a video of Shange performing "Dangling Participles and Shady Syllables," a video of Shange receiving the 2009 Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theater, and manuscripts.


  • 1966-2018



This collection has no restrictions.

Publication Rights

All rights of copyright will remain with Ntozake Shange’s literary trust. Ntozake Shange’s literary trust grants advanced permission for the Barnard Archives to permit individuals to quote from the materials. Individuals utilizing the materials who wish to publish and/or profit monetarily from the materials must obtain permissions from Ntozake Shange's literary trust.

Reproductions Restrictions

Photocopies or scans may be made for scholarly, research purposes only.


Ntozake Shange was a playwright, poet, novelist, and teacher. She was born Paulette Williams on October 18, 1948, in Trenton, New Jersey. She spent several formative years of her childhood in St. Louis before her family returned to Trenton, where she attended high school. In 1966, she entered Barnard College, where she received a bachelor's degree in American Studies in 1970. Following Barnard, she attended the University of Southern California, where she earned her master's degree, also in American Studies. While living in Southern California, she took the names Ntozake, translated from Xhosa as "she who comes into her own things," and Shange meaning "she who walks like a lion."

Among Shange's best known works is the 1975 piece, first published as a chapbook by Shameless Hussy Press, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, a mix of music, dance, drama, and poetry conceptualized by Shange as a choreopoem. It was performed first by Shange and a cast at the Bacchanal in the Bay Area, and then at a series of downtown New York venues as an Off-Broadway theatre production in 1975-6, and opened at the Public Theater in June 1976. It quickly moved to the Booth Theater on Broadway and was the recipient of numerous awards including the Obie Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. In 1977, for colored girls was re-published by MacMillan. for colored girls was adapted for television in a 1982 production for The American Playhouse series and for film in the 2010 Tyler Perry production For Colored Girls. In 2019, for colored girls returned to the Public for a revival and again garnered numerous awards, including the Outer Critics Circle Award for best revival and a Drama Desk Award.

The cross- and inter-disciplinary body of Shange's work is prolific and includes, but is certainly not limited to, theater works: A Photograph: Lovers in Motion (1977), Boogie Woogie Landscapes (1979), Spell #7 (1979), Mother Courage and Her Children (1980, winner of a 1981 Obie Award), Bocas (1982), Whitewash (1994, adapted for a television special starring Rubie Dee); works of poetry such as: Nappy Edges (1978), A Daughter's Geography (1983), From Okra to Greens (1984), Ridin' the Moon in Texas: Word Paintings (1987), The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African American Family (2004, with photography by Frank Stewart and Kamoinge, Inc.), People of Watts (1993, first published in VIBE Magazine); and numerous novels: Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982), Betsey Brown(1985),Liliane (1994), Some Sing, Some Cry (2010, with Shange's sister Ifa Bayeza). Additionally, Shange authored several children's books and wrote the forward to Robert Mapplethorpe's book of photography, The Black Book (1986). Shange's first posthumously published book, Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance, was published in 2020.

Shange dedicated much of her life to educating, directing, and performing. She was a visiting artist, an artist in residence, a scholar in residence, and/or taught courses in Women's Studies, Gender Studies, Africana Studies, and Literature at institutions including: Douglass College, University of Houston, Brown, City College of New York, Yale University, Howard University, New York University, and Barnard College. She danced with the Third World Collective, Raymond Sawyer's Afro-American Dance Company, and the West Coast Dance Works. As a dancer she worked extensively with the choreographer and dancer Dianne McIntyre, having once been a student in McIntyre's Harlem dance company Sounds in Motion. The collaborative relationship between Ntozake Shange and Dianne McIntyre resulted in a number of works including the choreopoem Why I Had to Dance, written by Shange and choreographed and directed by McIntyre. Shange appeared in numerous Broadway and Off-Broadway productions including for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf; she directed works for the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Houston Equinox Theatre; and she acted in several plays including Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon (1977) and Mouths (1981). Shange was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund Award, a Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a Pushcart Prize.

Ntozake Shange died on October 27, 2018, in Bowie, Maryland. She was survived by her daughter, Savannah Shange; her sisters Ifa Bayeza and Bisa Williams; and brother, Paul T. Williams Jr.


39 Linear Feet (35 document boxes, 14 banker's boxes, 7 clamshell box, 3 oversized folders, 1 oversized box, 1 box of digital media including CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, DVD-RWs, 3.5 inch floppy disks, and a MiniDV tape)

17.1 Gigabytes (1 pdf, 43 m4a music files, and 776 jpg files)




Ntozake Shange (1948-2018) was an American playwright and poet. The contents of the Ntozake Shange Papers include literary manuscripts; diaries and agendas; correspondence; teaching documents; personal and professional photographs; flyers, clippings, and posters; selections from her library; personal objects including collectables and artwork; and born-digital photographs, audio recordings, and manuscripts.

Collection Arrangement

The collection is physically in the original order in which it was received. The archivists have made the decision to rearrange some documents in order to improve access to the collection. The records are arranged into twelve series, two of which are further arranged into subseries. The series and subseries arrangement of the records is as follows:

Series 1, Works by Shange

Series 2, Correspondence
Subseries 2.1, Personal
Subseries 2.2, Business

Series 3, Journals and Agendas

Series 4, Notes

Series 5, Clippings, Flyers, Programs, Posters, Media Appearances

Series 6, Teaching Documents

Series 7, Photographs

Series 8, Artwork
Subseries 8.1, Created by Shange
Subseries 8.2, Collected by Shange

Series 9, Adaptations and Works Inspired by Shange

Series 10, Awards

Series 11, Collectables

Series 12, Selections from Shange’s Library

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Digital materials are found in the Works by Shange, Photographs, and Unprocessed Digital Materials series. These materials can be accessed remotely by individuals who have secured permission from Ntozake Shange and/or Ntozake Shange's estate. These records can also be accessed by all researchers on-site in the Archives and Special Collections reading room. Processed digital files are preserved; we can provide varying levels of access to these files due to software and/or system specifications needed to view certain file formats and media types such as MiniDV tapes or ClarisWorks files. We cannot provide access to all digital materials as we have not been able to read some disks, as noted in the Unprocessed Digital Materials series.

Physical Location

This collection is located in the Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library. To use this collection, please contact the Barnard Archives and Special Collections at 212.854.4079 or

Acquisition Information

Acquired, 2013-2016.

Appraisal Note

Materials related to Shange's health, medical history, and finances have been removed and destroyed. Personal information related to Shange's former students' academic history have also been removed and destroyed.


Accruals are expected.

Related Collections

Betsko-Koenig Women Playwrights Collection, 1955-1990, Smith College,

Nuyorican Poets Cafe Ephemera, 1975-2000, Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL,

Guide to the Shameless Hussy Press records, 1968-1989, University of California Santa Cruz,

Anthony Barboza Papers, Ca. 1970-1999, Cornell University,

Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn Papers, 1974-2006, University of California Berkeley

Papers of June Jordan, 1936-2002, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute

Pedro Pietri Papers, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College

Thulani Davis Collection, 1967-1997, Emory University

Michelle Wallace Papers, ca. 1940-2004, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

Processing History

This collection was processed and the finding aid written by Shannon O'Neill in October 2015. This finding aid was updated by Charlotte Kostelic in March, 2016; extensive edits and inventorying provided by Vani Natarajan, 2016; inventorying and additional processing by Dinah Handel and Heather Lember, 2015. Edits, inventorying, and additional processing done by Julia Sukhu, 2017. Additional inventorying was done by Hilary Wang, Sarah Barlow-Ochshorn, and Makeen Zachery in November 2019; images were rehoused in archival sleeves by Kaya Alim in December 2019.

Guide to the Ntozake Shange Papers
Charlotte Kostelic and Shannon O'Neill
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Barnard Archives and Special Collections Repository

3009 Broadway
New York NY 10027 United States