For Colored Girls: My Night with Ntozake Shange

Confession: I’ve never seen For Colored Girls… well, at least not live, and not 'til last night when the National Black Leadership Commission for Aids (NBLCA) put on an performance at Harlem Hospital. (I was there to moderate a panel on HIV post-performance.) I read For Colored Girls when I was a teenager because it was on a bookshelf at my parents’ house and the title said it was for colored girls, so…  Most of it went over my head. I hadn’t lived enough. I used to, for kicks, watch clips of the 1982 PBS movie version on You Tube, particularly the scene with (a divine) Alfre Woodard as Lady

in Red, talking about how some man ran off with “alla my stuff” because I’m obsessed – in a fan way, not a stalker way— with Woodard.

 [video width="500" height="350" id="5v5sneqjdh8" type="youtube"]


And of course I saw Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls.” Um… I’ve instituted a personal moratorium on discussing Perry because every time I write about him, the commentary is the written equivalent of Groundhog’s Day in that it’s the same complaint over and over and over. I’m tired of repeating myself and it feels like he’s never going to address the (very valid) concerns (many people have) anyway. So again, so…

So last night was my first time seeing “For Colored Girls...”, on the 40th anniversary of the play, and with Ntozake Shange sitting right there in the audience, riveted by the performances, like she didn’t write the play and hasn’t seen it 1000 times.  It was that good. So, so good. Apparently, I've lived enough now. And that's kinda good and kinda bad too.

The actresses take the stage.

And apparently, I don’t know all my Black actresses like I should because there was amazing talent on that stage and I’m all “Who is this woman? I must see everything she’s ever done!!” And then there were the women whose faces I’d know anywhere, but had to look up  names.

Like her…

Remember Phyllis Stickney from "Women of Brewster Place"?


And her too…

On the right, Barbara Montgomery  aka "Sister" aka "Casietta Hetebrink" from Amen.


Oh, and this lovely, marvelous actress whose face I recognize, whose voice I KNOW from somewhere, but can't remember where for anything. Can anybody ID her?


Harpo, who is this amazing woman?!


Additional evening highlights:

*I met Ntozake Shange. It’s actually my second time. “The Magazine” had its 40th anniversary luncheon in 2010 at the  Mandarin Oriental in Midtown and for like the first and last time ever, I wore a hat. (I was still in my “odd” phase.) Shange walks over to me after the celebration to tell me she likes my hat. And I just stood there looking at her dumbfounded because she’s MF NTOZAKE SHANGE and I’m a writer and an at-the-time aspiring author and she’s talking to me. I finally pulled myself together, said, "thank you", then she introduced herself as MF NTOZAKE SHANGE and then we talked about the state of Black literature and feminism…. she asked me where I bought the hat, I told her, and she added that it was lovely and said it was nice to meet me, then went on about her life as I stood there thinking, “OMG, it’s MF NTOZAKE SHANGE!!!!!!”

I was much more collected last night, only because I knew she was going to be there in advance and had time to collect myself. When I met her on the red carpet, I told her how For Colored Girls… inspired me to be a writer and thanked her for sharing herself. I imagine every Black woman she’s ever encountered has said some version of this, but she thanked me like it was her first time hearing it and I felt warm inside.

Ntozake + Me, who is starting to look like her mother.


*On the ride home, my driver had the radio off. So we’re headed toward the FDR in dead silence.

Me: Sir, what would you be listening to if I wasn’t in the car?

Him: Uh… news radio.

Me: So.... would you mind if we listened Meek Mill?

Driver: No, no I would not.

He intuitively turned it up when we got to “Young N**** Move That Dope”, which is currently my favorite song.


*In the Green Room, there’s a last minute rehearsal of the finale. A stage manager comes in, asks a room full of 50 Black women to hush—no easy feat—and when we finally do, a mature Black woman just breaks into song wailing, “I saw God in myself… I saw God in myself…” And then the other 50 Black women joined in.

50 Black women.

Singing “I saw God in myself…”.

In unison.

I wanted to burst into spontaneous tears of joy. (I think this is a sign I need to go to church more.)


*Oh, and I had brownies and wine for dinner. And  I feel entirely good about this.


The End.