“I believe in magic. I believe in being carried away.”
Broadway Black began reporting on Dr. Ntozake Shange over a year ago as she was returning to the stage as poet, performer, and storyteller at the Blue Note in NYC. I sat down with feminist poet and playwright Ntozake Shange to discuss her legacy and craft. Shange’s seminal choreopoem (a form of dramatic expression that combines poetry, dance, music, and song and a coined term by Shange in 1975) for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf has been holding space for dialogues about the lived experiences of Black women for over four decades.
The work has been handed down by generations of women, passed from mother to daughter, sister to sister, and friend to friend. It is taught in the classroom and produced locally. It has been produced off-Broadway, on Broadway and both the large and small screen. Shange’s canon of poetry, prose, and stage work has paved the way for Black women to take risks in the art of storytelling. Shange is undoubtedly a black literary and performance icon who remains relevant in our consciousness. Shange is one of the most important voices in American letters poignantly and creatively addressing the lived experiences of Black people, LGBTQ rights, women’s empowerment, racial inequality, domestic abuse, intertwined with the ongoing theme of loving ourselves fiercely.
On October 27th, 2018 our beloved Shange moved from an elder in our community to an ancestor. This is a transition that we hold close to our hearts. After all, elders are the keepers of the African American legacy and Ancestors are our guiding light as we set out on our paths. Honoring Shange’s legacy requires that we acknowledge immense contributions to the world, then move towards activating the audacity of her existence in our worlds.
Born Paulette Linda Williams, she adopted a Zulu name in the early 1970s, selecting Ntozake (en-to-ZAH-key), which means “she who comes with her own things,” and Shange (SHAHN-gay), meaning “one who walks like a lion,”. Shange is best known for the Obie Award-winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. She also penned several novels including Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982), Liliane (1994), and Betsey Brown (1985), a book about an African-American girl who runs away from home.
Among the many accolades, it is important to remember that Shange was an artist by the purest definition. She spent decades honing her craft. She developed her poetic voice. She collaborated with artists of all genres and mediums. She experimented with sound, texture, words and played to create meaning. She listened to critiques but created the art she wanted regardless of their analysis. She started her art performing in with real people and kept her art for the people even after she debuted on Broadway. As artists, theatre-makers, and consumers of art, this is what we must never forget about Shange. Not only did she change the world with art, but her work is also a “radical reordering of western cultural aesthetic.” She reclaimed Blackness and reminded us of its beauty.
In my 2017, interview with Shange I asked her thoughts on ghosts, the supernatural and the afterlife.
“I believe in magic. I believe in being carried away. I think writing some poetry and some prose I get carried away. I don’t feel like I am in my body. I am in the language. I rejoice in that. I don’t mind being out of my body. Or being in an altered state which I find is close to magic. Being able to talk to my relatives who are in another plane, or who are existing afterlife, is magic but they are so real to me I don’t think of it as anything besides life. It natural to me and as far as my conversation and memories of them, they are just alive they are not dream figures or ghosts they are living to me. They are with me. I interact with them. That is how I see it.”
In the coming weeks and months and years continue to honor Shange. Gather in your homes, classrooms, in theaters, and in the streets to re-read for colored girls. Return to her poetry. Return to her prose. Dance as you think of her. Paint as you feel her. Collaborate as you get moved by her. Smile as you remember her and know that she is the magic that is guiding you as you create art and wake up daily to change the world.
Tony & Emmy Nominated Actor Earle Hyman Passes Away at 91
It is with heavy hearts that we report television actor and theater great Earle Hyman passed away* November 17th, 2017, at the age of 91. Hyman was born October 11th, 1926 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, of African-American and Native American ancestry. Hyman’s parents, Zachariah Hyman (Tuscarora) and Maria Lilly Plummer (Haliwa-Saponi/Nottoway), moved their family to Brooklyn, New York, where Hyman primarily grew up.
According to an interview in The Villager, Hyman’s interest in theater started at the age of 13 after seeing a production of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. Hyman stated,
“The first play I ever saw was a present from my parents on my 13th birthday — Nazimova in ‘Ghosts’ at Brighton Beach on the subway circuit — and I just freaked out.”
Hyman would go on to make his Broadway stage debut as a teenager in 1943 in Run, Little Chillun, and later joined the American Negro Theater. The following year, Hyman began a two-year run playing the role of Rudolf on Broadway in Anna Lucasta, starring Hilda Simms in the title role. He became a charter member of the American Shakespeare Theatre beginning with its first season in 1955 and played the role of Othello in the 1957 season. Throughout his career, he continued to take on challenging characters playing side by side with great likes Andy Griffith (No Time for Sergeants 1958) and Luther Adler (The Merchants of Venice 1973). It was in 1980 when Hyman would get his shot at the lead, playing Oscar in The Lady from Dubuque, earning a Tony Award Nomination for Best Featured Actor.
His career on Broadway would span nearly 50 years with a total of 16 productions to his name with his work earning him a Theater World Award in 1965, and the 1988 St. Olav Award for his work in Norweigan Theater, a language for which he is also fluent.
In the television world his career spanned nearly 60 years with his first credited work being Look up and Live in 1954; Throughout the years he would continue playing various small screen roles including adaptions of Macbeth (1968), Julius Caesar (1979), and Coriolanus (1979).
However, He is best known for his role on the iconic sitcom The Cosby Show, where he played Russell Huxtable, father to Heathcliffe Huxtable played by Bill Cosby. His work garnered him a 1986 Primetime Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series.” During this time, he also did work for the animated series “Thundercats,” where he played the voice of Pantho for five seasons.
Hyman is also related to the iconic singer and Broadway actress, the late Phyllis Hyman (Sophisticated Ladies 1981) and rising recording artist/actress Myriam Hyman (@Robynhoodmusic)
R.I.P. Earle Hyman (Best Featured Actor nominee @thetonyawards 1980 for ‘The Lady from Dubuque’) #YouAreBroadwayBlack • With over 15 Broadway credits to his name Earle Hyman was an American stage, TV, & film actor most notably known for his role on The Cosby Show as Cliff’s father, Russell Huxtable as well as the voice of Panthro on Thundercats. He made his Broadway debut in 1943 in ‘Run, Little Chillun’ & would later join the American Negro Theatre. Born October 11th, 1926 we honor his life and the contributions he made with his stellar craft. (Relation to music legend Phyllis Hyman & rising star @robynhoodmusic Miriam A. Hyman)
*We received this news shortly after his passing on the early morning of November 17th from a few close, reliable sources who reached out to us. Out of respect for his family & those who loved him personally we held the information until today.