Ntozake means “she who comes with her own things,” and Shange means “who walks like a lion.” Born Paulette Williams, the playwright, poet, and novelist was raised after age 8 in an intellectual, upper-middle-class family in racially segregated St. Louis. After moving there in 1956, the girl had to endure racist hatred for being bused to a white school. After an unsuccessful marriage when a college freshman, she grew depressed and attempted suicide.
For all the traumas and psychological dislocations she delves into, Shange reminds us up front in For Colored Girls’ title of a basic optimism. As the Lady in Red declares in the last words of this rumination/manifesto: “I found god in myself, and I loved her. I loved her fiercely.”