Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Ntozake Shange Memorial Event

Ntozake Shange, who passed on 27th October 2018, aged 70, was an American playwright and prolific multi-award winning poet. As a Black feminist, she addressed issues relating to race and Black power in much of her work. She is best known for the canonical Obie Award-winning choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976), a play about Black women struggling to assert themselves while dealing with the everday problems of life. 

Carol Leeming
When Carol Leeming – multi-award winning poet, playwright, director, performer, musician, and tutor – rang me and told me she was co-hosting a memorial event to celebrate and honour Ntozake Shange's life and work, with Dr Leighan Renaud (University of Leicester) and asked if I would like to participate at the Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester, on 21st December 2018, I didn't hesitate to say."Yes!"

Me Reading at Ntozake Shange Memorial Event
 I also knew exactly what I would be reading, an article entitled 'Ntozake Knows the Name of the Game' in The Voice Newspaper, May 23rd 1995.  The writer of the piece was not cited.  

I had kept this now yellowing article since studying Black Women's Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London, and was excited that it was now going to be aired at such a poignant celebration of Ntozake Shange's life and literary legacy. 

The Voice article
The following is an excerpt of the article:

"What's in a name? Not a lot, according to the 46-year-old writer and poet. Paulette Williams changed her moniker into an African one a quarter of a century ago in 1970, and to her it is no big deal. Not in Africa anyway.

Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things" and Shange translates into "who walks like a lion". It seems appropriate.

Zaki, as she is known by her friends, is  not sarcastic, as her abbreviated name might suggest.

But when I suggest that to change your name like this is a sign of a bold person she roars like a lion. "Ntozake is like Barbara to Africans. It's not bold at all."

Reading the article to a dynamic audience generated a thought-provoking and interactive discussion. In particular, despite the unknown source of the writing, most audience members believed it to be male, as there was biased reporting of Ntozake Shange, for example, "Despite being dressed casually, her nails are long and a glowing red. They look well manicured, as if someone has spent quality time on them." When the reason for the article was that Ntozake Shange was in the UK after publication of her third novel, Lilane, there was little mention of this until the end of the article.

The Memorial event was celebrated with African Libation, other personal contributions from leading poets and academics, as well as Poetry readings based on  Ntozake Shange's choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf,

Participants also included:

Leighan Renaud who works at the University of Leicester. She recently completed her PhD in Contemporary Caribbean Literature.

Sandra Pollock, a multi-award winning director, community leader, and founder of the East Midlands Women's Awards.

Michelle 'Mother' Hubbard, a poet, performer, story-weaver, writer, African drummer and founding member of Blackdrop spoken word/open mic event Nottingham.

Michelle Vacciana who has produced small-scale theatre shows, both independently and by commission.

Michaela Spencer, The Plentiful Poet, graduated with a Foundation Degree in Performing Arts. Michaela studied Ntozake Shange while at University. Ntozake had a huge impact on her degree.

Rosa Fernadez is a writer, slam-winning performance poet and freelance editor from Burton-on-Trent. She studied English at Goldsmiths in London. Since returning to the Midlands, she has been warmly embraced by Leicester's cultural scene. 

Carol Leeming Bio:

Carol Leeming, MBE, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, is a multi-award winning poet, playwright, director, performer, musician, and tutor. Carol's plays have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and the Centre for New Writing, University of Leicester, and performed in The Curve, Brighton Dome, and Haymarket. Notable works include her two choreopoems 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva'; 'Love the Life you Live ... Live the Life you Love' along with the plays Vex and Women in Pain, co-written with Wendy Christian. Carol published her debut poetry chapbook in 2016 entitled The Declamations of Cool Eye. Her poem 'Highfields Fantasia' is used for teaching at the University of Leicester. Her work is referenced by Dr Corinne Fowler, in the Cambridge Companion to British Black & Asian Literature, edited by Deidre Osborne. Carol is working on a new poetry collection and songs for a music album for 2019.

1 comment:

  1. My heartfelt thanks for this wonderful blog by Nicole Moore. Documenting an excellent event organised by myself with Leighan Renaud Leicester with contributions from Nicole Moore Michael Hubbard, Michelle Vacciana, Michael Spencer Sandra Pollock with support of Leicester University English School to celebrate and remember the extraordinary life and literature of Ntozake Shangwe a Literary Titan my thanks to Nicole for this wonderful blog on the