For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange is a choreopoem that focuses mainly on the bare reality of what it is like to live life through the experiences of a 20th century woman of color. It is made up of “20 poems for seven actors on the power of black women to survive in the face of despair and pain.” The book is structured through stage directions which help amplify the already shockingly powerful poetry of this work.
The piece was first performed in 1974 in California after two years of hard work and creation. In the 1980 Bantam Books edition which I read, Shange ends her forward with this inspiring message: “I am on the other side of the rainbow/ picking up the pieces of days spent waiting for the poem to be heard/ while you listen/ i have other work to do/” (xvi). This beautiful passage sums up the experiences depicted in the text. The poems are dramatic, innovative, heartfelt and powerful.
The choreopoem begins with the lady in brown stating the first line, which I believe to be one of the most poweful, the “dark phrases of womanhood,” (3). This simple line embodies this writing so well as it expresses the empty passion, the blind power, the inability for women of color to truly express themselves in the oppressive environment that are caught in. This is one of the many passages that as The New York Times agrees, “Ntozake Shange writes with such exquisite care and beauty that anyone can relate to her message.” I completely agree with this statement. The writing is not exclusive for one race/class/gender to feel and connect with. It is to inspire and express to everyone, to help everyone open their eyes to the injustices felt, and still being felt by so many women of color today.
I personally resonated with the lady in blue when she expresses; “round midnite, praying won’t no young man, thank i’m pretty in a dark mornin,” (37). She goes onto describe how the stranger, solely because of his gender, will be “fulla his power,” (37). A power, that I can relate to being intimidating as I have felt it in personal experiences of street harassment. At this point in the book, I really did feel a connection to the cause being addressed and a relationship with the characters. There are so many different aspects touched on by this plays performance that it is impossible not to feel a certain degree of empathy with the ideas and stories being expressed.
The poems expressing many stories covering areas from love, abandonment to rape and abortion, is one that also seems to end in a feel of liberation. It is as if these women, of many colors, backgrounds, life experiences, have all found themselves and through that a peace which is their personal ‘gold’ at the end of the rainbow. There is also an “unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world.” The idea of the rainbow itself brings into play the idea of the importance of unity in these women’s fights for justice. No one color can exist solely as a rainbow, and no rainbow can exist missing a color. In regard to this, the women’s struggle is united and all related causes. Bringing in the idea of intersectionality, in which all their causes relate and overlap in the issues they are so oppressed by through society.
I character of the the lady in brown one of the most interesting. Her color is what made her stand out to me so boldly. She is the color produced when you mix all the colors of the rainbow together. The end result, the overall summary. She is the first to speak, and the last. I find this important as she therefore helps narrate the story in a way as she encompasses all the emotions and feelings of women. This combination therefore seems to suggest that the lady in brown represents this intersectionality of the colors.
Another piece of revolutionary literature is that of “Poetry is Not Luxury,” by Audre Lorde (1977). Lorde’s poetry can be strongly linked to the work of Shange’s. In one excerpt from her poem, Lorde writes, “poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence,” as women. Similarly, on page 15 or Shange’s choreopoem, the lady in yellow and the lady in brown express “we gotta dance to keep from crying, we gotta dance to keep from dyin.” Through their artistic expression women are able to convey themselves. It is a form of emotion, spirit, and passion that is vital for all women to have a voice. It is “a custom to being black and the key elements are strength, courage and a voice that speaks her mind.” As Lorde states, females do not want literature and forms of art expression to help them grow and stay strong, they need it, it is necessary for any form of survival.
This choreopoem, For Colored Girls, Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is an enlightening text that is full of rich and powerful emotion that not only sheds light on the problems felt through the experiences of young women of color in the 20th century, but can also strongly have a voice today in out patriarchical world. I think that through this work, Shange has expressed that although a rainbow may seem a mirage or an untouchable idea, it is the power and spirit within one’s self which is necessary to keep us going. Through spreading the stories on this performance, there is a sense of unity, and therefore power, which the reader is left with at the end of this moving text.