Digital Shange Project

The Digital Shange project uses the works and papers of Barnard alumna Ntozake Shange (BC ’70) to offer students a deeper understanding of African diaspora, women’s history and feminist politics, an integrated/contextual study of the performing arts; and the potential for personal transformation. Shange is best known for her Broadway play, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (1975). A unique blend of poetry, music, dance and drama called a “choreopoem,” for colored girls “took the theatre world by storm” in 1975 noted Jacqueline Trescott in the Washington Post. A poet, performance artist, playwright and novelist, Shange’s stylistic innovations in drama, poetry and fiction and attention to the untold lives of black women have made her an influential figure throughout American arts. Over the course of her career, she has published more than thirty acclaimed works in range of genres and forms 
 
The Worlds of Ntozake Shange seminar works to develop an interdisciplinary interpretive practice rooted in sound, movement and language that captures what Shange calls the "carnal intellectuality" of her work. Barnard’s unique location as a woman’s college near Harlem means that students are able to work collaboratively with faculty, archivists, and artists as they develop use digital tools and archival research to make available online new ways of understanding Shange’s work and milieu. The project will provide model materials for faculty wishing to offer interdisciplinary arts training and/or training in archival research to undergraduate students.
 
Since 2013, the Africana Studies Department, the Barnard Center for Research on Women, and the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies have embarked on a project to celebrate the life and re-evaluate the works of Shange. During the 2012-2013 academic year, ten faculty from Africana Studies, American Studies, Dance, Education, English and Theater conducted a seminar on her work; in Fall 2012, Shange came to campus as the second Africana Studies distinguished Alumna lecturer and participated in an an illuminating public discussion with Barnard faculty and other scholars on the controversial film of her most famous work. These activities culminated with a very successful one day symposium, “An Art that Was Rightfully Mine”: The Worlds of Ntozake Shange” which began with an original student performance piece produced by Africana alum/BCRW Alumnae Fellow Ebonie Smith (BC ’07) and concluded with a tribute to Shange orchestrated by Yvette Christianse.
 
The Digital Shange project amplifies and extends this work through a multi-year, student-focused project that brings together New York archives, digital technologies and New York artists. Shange’s works offer the means for a broader understanding of African diaspora and women’s histories & issues; for the integrated study of the performing arts; and for personal transformation. As such, her work provides a rich opportunity for students to become public intellectuals in their own right, to use their engagement with her work to teach for transformation. This project addresses the College’s current desire to develop innovative uses of technology in the classroom, to highlight the nexus of teaching and research in a liberal arts environment and maximize the teaching and research opportunities available through our location in New York City. Students who take these courses will emerge with arts based interdisciplinary training as well as enhanced digital skills, including a sophisticated grasp of social media. This course could be a model for teaching about a range of artists and arts movements at Barnard and beyond.
 
Related Materials
 
The following video discussions have been edited for classroom use and provide an initial digital window into the Worlds of Shange:
 
Shange in Conversation wtih Dianne McIntyre
 
Ntozake Shange on Stage and Screen
 
Worlds of Shange: Welcoming Remarks
 
Worlds of Shange: From Analphabetic to Script Obsessed
 
Worlds of Shange: A Poetic Possibility/A Poetic Imperative
 
Worlds of Shange: Presentation to Ntozake Shange
 
Worlds of Shange: Performing Shange