For colored girls who have considered suicide/When the rainbow is enuf

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About The Book

A revolutionary, award-winning play by a lauded playwright and poet about the experiences of women of color.

From its inception in California in 1974 to its highly acclaimed critical success at Joseph Papp's Public Theater and on Broadway, the Obie Award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has excited, inspired, and transformed audiences all over the country. Passionate and fearless, Shange's words reveal what it is to be of color and female in the twentieth century. First published in 1975 when it was praised by The New Yorker for "encompassing...every feeling and experience a woman has ever had," for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf will be read and performed for generations to come. Here is the complete text, with stage directions, of a groundbreaking dramatic prose poem written in vivid and powerful language that resonates with unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

The stage is in darkness. Harsh music is heard as dim blue lights come up. One after another, seven women run onto the stage from each of the exits. They all freeze in postures of distress. The follow spot picks up the lady in brown. She comes to life and looks around at the other ladies. All of the others are still. She walks over to the lady in red and calls to her. The lady in red makes no response.

lady in brown


dark phrases of womanhood

of never havin been a girl

half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

distraught laughter fallin

over a black girl's shoulder

it's funny/it's hysterical

the melody-less-ness of her dance

don't tell nobody don't tell a soul

she's dancin on beer cans & shingles

this must be the spook house

another song with no singers

lyrics/no voices

& interrupted solos

unseen performances

are we ghouls?

children of horror?

the joke?

don't tell nobody don't tell a soul

are we animals? have we gone crazy?

i can't hear anythin

but maddening screams

& the soft strains of death

& you promised me

you promised me...

somebody/anybody

sing a black girl's song

bring her out

to know herself

to know you

but sing her rhythms

carin/struggle/hard times

sing her song of life

she's been dead so long

closed in silence so long

she doesn't know the sound

of her own voice

her infinite beauty

she's half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

sing her sighs

sing the song of her possibilities

sing a righteous gospel

let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly.

lady in brown

i'm outside chicago

lady in yellow

i'm outside detroit

lady in purple

i'm outside houston

lady in red

i'm outside baltimore

lady in green

i'm outside san francisco

lady in blue

i'm outside manhattan

lady in orange

i'm outside st. louis

lady in brown

& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide

but moved to the ends of their own rainbows.

everyone

mama's little baby likes shortnin, shortnin,

mama's little baby likes shortnin bread

mama's little baby likes shortnin, shortnin,

mama's little baby likes shortnin bread

little sally walker, sittin in a saucer

rise, sally, rise, wipe your weepin eyes

an put your hands on your hips

an let your backbone slip

o, shake it to the east

o, shake it to the west

shake it to the one

that you like the best

lady in purple

you're it

As the lady in brown tags each of the other ladies they freeze. When each one has been tagged the lady in brown freezes. Immediately "Dancing in the Streets" by Martha and the Vandellas is heard. All of the ladies start to dance. The lady in green, the lady in blue, and the lady in yellow do the pony, the big boss line, the swim, and the nose dive. The other ladies dance in place.

lady in yellow

it was graduation nite & i waz the only virgin in the crowd

bobby mills martin jerome & sammy yates eddie jones & randi

all cousins

all the prettiest niggers in this factory town

carried me out wit em

in a deep black buick

smellin of thunderbird & ladies in heat

we rambled from camden to mount holly

laughin at the afternoon's speeches

& danglin our tassles from the rear view mirror

climbin different sorta project stairs

movin toward snappin beer cans &

GET IT GET IT THAT'S THE WAY TO DO IT MAMA

all mercer county graduated the same nite

cosmetology secretarial pre-college autoshop & business

all us movin from mama to what ever waz out there

that nite we raced a big ol truck from the barbeque stand

trying to tell him bout the party at jacqui's

where folks graduated last year waz waitin to hit it wid us

i got drunk & cdnt figure out

whose hand waz on my thigh/but it didn't matter

cuz these cousins martin eddie sammy jerome & bobby

waz my sweethearts alternately since the seventh grade

& everybody knew i always started cryin if somebody actually

tried to take advantage of me

at jacqui's

ulinda mason was stickin her mouth all out

while we tumbled out the buick

eddie jones waz her lickin stick

but i knew how to dance

it got soo hot

vincent ramos puked all in the punch

& harly jumped all in tico's face

cuz he was leavin for the navy in the mornin

hadda kick ass so we'd all remember how bad he waz

seems like sheila & marguerite waz fraid

to get their hair turnin back

so they laid up against the wall

lookin almost sexy

didnt wanna sweat

but me & my fellas

we waz dancin

since 1963 i'd won all kinda contests

wid the cousins at the POLICE ATHLETIC LEAGUE DANCES

all mercer county knew

any kin to martin yates cd turn somersaults

fore smokey robinson cd get a woman excited

The Dells singing "Stay" is heard

we danced

doin nasty ol tricks

The lady in yellow sings along with the Dells for a moment. The lady in orange and the lady in blue jump up and parody the lady in yellow and the Dells. The lady in yellow stares at them. They sit down.

doin nasty ol tricks i'd been thinkin since may

cuz graduation nite had to be hot

& i waz the only virgin

so i hadda make like my hips waz inta some business

that way everybody thot whoever was gettin it

was a older man cdnt run the streets wit youngsters

martin slipped his leg round my thigh

the dells bumped "stay"

up & down-up & down the new carver homes

WE WAZ GROWN

WE WAZ FINALLY GROWN

ulinda alla sudden went crazy

went over to eddie cursin & carryin on

tearin his skin wid her nails

the cousins tried to talk sense to her

tried to hold her arms

lissin bitch sammy went on

bobby whispered i shd go wit him

fore they go ta cuttin

fore the police arrived

we teetered silently thru the parkin lot

no un uhuh

we didn't know nothin bout no party

bobby started lookin at me

yeah

he started looking at me real strange

like i waz a woman or somethin/

started talkin real soft

in the backseat of that ol buick

WOW

by daybreak

i just cdnt stop grinnin.

The Dells singing "Stay" comes in and all of the ladies except the lady in blue join in and sing along.

lady in blue


you gave it up in a buick?

lady in yellow

yeh, and honey, it was wonderful.

lady in green

we used to do it all up in the dark

in the corners...

lady in blue

some niggah sweating all over you.

lady in red

it was good!

lady in blue

i never did like to grind.

lady in yellow

what other kind of dances are there?

lady in blue

mambo, bomba, merengue

when i waz sixteen i ran off to the south bronx

cuz i waz gonna meet up wit willie colon

& dance all the time

mamba bomba merengue

lady in yellow

do you speak spanish?

lady in blue

ol&$224;

my papa thot he was puerto rican & we wda been

cept we waz just reglar niggahs wit hints of spanish

so off i made it to this 36 hour marathon dance

con salsa con ricardo

'suggggggggggar' ray on southern blvd

next door to this fotografi place

jammed wit burial weddin & communion relics

next door to la real ideal genuine spanish barber

up up up up up stairs & stairs & lotsa hallway

wit my colored new jersey self

didn't know what anybody waz saying

cept if dancin waz proof of origin

i was jibarita herself that nite

& the next day

i kept smilin & right on steppin

if he cd lead i waz ready to dance

if he cdnt lead

i caught this attitude

i'd seen rosa do

& wd not be bothered

i waz twirlin hippin givin much quik feet

& bein a mute cute colored puerto rican

til saturday afternoon when the disc-jockey say

'SORRY FOLKS WILLIE COLON AINT GONNA MAKE IT TODAY'

& alla my niggah temper came outta control

& i wdnt dance wit nobody

& i talked english loud

& i love you more than i waz mad

uh huh uh huh

more than more than

when i discovered archie shepp & subtle blues

doncha know i wore out the magic of juju

heroically resistin being possessed

oooooooooooooh the sounds

sneakin in under age to slug's

to stare ata real 'artiste'

& every word outta imamu's mouth waz gospel

& if jesus cdnt play a horn like shepp

waznt no need for colored folks to bear no cross at all

& poem is my thank-you for music

& i love you more than poem

more than aureliano buendia loved macondo

more than hector lavoe loved himself

more than the lady loved gardenias

more than celia loves cuba or graciela loves el son

more than the flamingoes shoo-do-n-doo-wah love bein pretty

oyeè neégro

te amo mas que te amo mas que

when you play

yr flute

everyone (very softly)
te amo mas que te amo mas que

lady in red

without any assistance or guidance from you

i have loved you assiduously for 8 months 2 wks & a day

i have been stood up four times

i've left 7 packages on yr doorstep

Copyright © 1975, 1976, 1977 by Ntozake Shange

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf

includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction 

First published in 1975 and praised by The New Yorker for “encompassing…every feeling a woman has ever had,” For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf uses a complement of female narrators to examine what it is like to be of color and female in America. More than thirty-five years after its inception, the Obie-Award winning For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf continues to be read and performed around the country and throughout the world. 

In her new introduction to the work, Ntozake Shange reflects on the legacy of her best-known work: “For Colored Girls still is a women’s trip, and the connection we can make through it, with each other and for each other, is to empower us all.”

Topics and Questions for Discussion
  1. How does “dark phrases,” the opening poem of For Colored Girls…, evoke the psychological states of the many narrators of the work in these lines: “she’s half-notes scattered/ without rhythm/ no tune/ sing her sighs/ sing the song of her possibilities…”? (p. 5) How might the phrase: “sing the song of her possibilities,” allude to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself…”? In what ways is For Colored Girls… a celebration of the women it profiles.

  2.  In “graduation nite,” the speaker loses her virginity in a Buick the same night as her high school graduation. To what extent does her ecstatic embrace of adulthood in lines like:  “WE WAZ GROWN WE WAZ FINALLY GROWN,” both hint at her innocence, and at its loss? (p. 9) Of the two rites of passage detailed in this poem, which seems to affect the poem’s speaker, the lady in yellow, more profoundly, and why?

  3.  How does the end of an affair narrated by the lady in red in “no assistance,” capture the pathos of a romantic break-up: “this note is attached to a plant/ i’ve been watering since the day i met you/ you may water it/ yr damn self.” (p. 14) How does the disappointed lady in red fit into the spectrum of ‘colored girls’ Shange profiles in this work?

  4. How does the author’s juxtaposition of a poem about rape, “latent rapists,” (pp. 17-21) with a poem about abortion, “abortion cycle #1” (p. 22-23) highlight the sexual vulnerabilities and dangers faced by many of her female speakers? How does the sequence of poems up to this point in For Colored Girls… establish a narrative of sexual awakening, sexual experience, and sexual anguish? To what extent do you think the author intends this series of events to be representative of the experience of women of color more generally?

  5. How does the appearance of Sechita in the poem of the same name change the direction of the narrative in For Colored Girls…? (p. 23) How did this shift impact you as a reader? To what extent is Sechita a sympathetic figure?

  6. In the poem, “toussaint,” the lady in brown describes an incident from childhood where she was disqualified from winning a library contest held for a “colored child” who could “read 15 books in three weeks” because she rhapsodized about a book from the adult reading room about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. (pp. 25-30) How does this poem comment on racial inequality both directly and indirectly? How does the narrator’s chance encounter with Toussaint Jones enable her to move beyond her obsession with L’Ouverture?

  7. In the poem, “pyramid,” about three girlfriends and the one man they all desire: “we all saw him at the same time/ & he saw us,” how would you characterize the author’s depiction of female friendship? (pp. 39-42) How does the male romantic interest in “pyramid” compare to the author’s other depictions of boys and men in For Colored Girls…?

  8. How does the sequence of four “no more love poems” (pp. 42-48) connect to the visions of romantic love developed in For Colored Girls…? Why does each of the speakers of the “no more love poems” reject love, and what do their rejections suggest about the kinds of love they are offered in return?

  9.  How do the poems “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff” (pp. 49-51) and “sorry” (pp. 52-55) seem to be in dialogue with each other? What do both poems have in common? How does the author’s decision to blur the boundaries between poems impact your sense of the progress of the narrative as a whole? Given that For Colored Girls… is meant to be performed, how might this blurring of transitions be strategic?

  10. How does the relationship between Crystal and Beau Willie depicted in “a nite with beau willie brown” (pp. 55-60) capture the terror of domestic violence? How does the author’s decision to end the poem with Crystal’s line: “but I cd only whisper/ & he dropped em,” emphasize the powerlessness of the victims of domestic violence?

  11. For Colored Girls… has elicited criticism from some male readers who feel that they are unfairly stereotyped in the work as abusive or violent by virtue of their sex. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this critique? Why might the author have chosen to explore the darker side of relationships between women and men in this work, and how does her decision affect your understanding of the gender divide in our culture?

  12. “Positive” is one of the poems that has been added to this edition of For Colored Girls… How does this new poem carry the book into the twenty-first century?

  13. Of the many poems in For Colored Girls…, which did you find most powerful and why? The title of the collection alludes to colored women who have considered suicide. What part, if any, does suicide seem to play in the scenarios described in the individual poems?
Enhance Your Book Club   

  1. Stage a dramatic reading of For Colored Girls…. Decide as a group how much of the poem will be performed and assign each member of your book club a role, such as “lady in red” or “lady in brown.” You might consider inviting friends or family members as an audience. After the presentation, discuss with your group how the emotional impact of the work changes when it is performed.

  2. Which of the rites of passage and femininity explored in For Colored Girls… did you feel resonated most closely with your own life experiences? Which of the narrators did you feel most closely aligned with and why? Did any of the lines in the work as a whole ring especially true to you? Which ones? You may want to share your findings and compare experiences with fellow book club members.
     
  3. For Colored Girls… is a choreopoem, a work that combines poetry and dance as a unique literary genre. If you were to write a choreopoem about some aspect of your life experiences, what time periods would you focus on? What moments in your life have shaped you most indelibly? Who would you cast in the chorus of “back-up” voices who would support this rendering of your life? Try writing a choreopoem about a special event in your life and share with your reading group members.

About The Author

Photo Credit: Deana Lawson

Ntozake Shange (1948–2018) was a poet, novelist, playwright, and performer. She wrote the Broadway-produced and Obie Award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, as well as numerous works of fiction, including Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo; Betsey Brown; and Liliane.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (November 2010)
  • Length: 112 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451624205

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