Poet, playwright, novelist and black feminist Ntozake Shange’s, Ph.D., earliest work can be traced back to the late 1960s when she was in high school. This foundational work along with an early drafts of the Obie Award-winning play, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” and many others are a part of the significant collection acquired by the Barnard Library Archives and Special Collections. The archive was recently featured in The New York Times ArtsBeat and Women in Higher Education.
Shange, Barnard College class of 1970 and former fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, decided she wanted her collection to be maintained at the College because it’s where all of her formative artistic, political and intellectual experiences took place.
“I feel as though I came of age as a feminist and an artist at Barnard. I formed the basis of my critical thinking in English and history classes. I was a member of consciousness-raising groups, the antiwar movement and black-student movement. I got all that I ever imagined from an all-women’s college, and I thought my archives belonged here,” Shange said.
The 31-linear-foot collection tells the story of Shange’s life and career and focuses on issues of race and feminism. Items range from personal diaries, a quill pen and personal artwork to a photo album from the poetic narrative, “The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of African American Family” and a typescript manuscript of “Some Sing, Some Cry.”
“We are so incredibly grateful to have such a significant collection where scholars can view personal photos, letters, and annotated books that influenced her work next to published poetry and artwork to literally trace the life of a dynamic writer, like Dr. Shange,” Shannon O’Neill, Barnard College associate director of Archives and Special Collections, said.
The collection, which is currently open to scholars and students, has been incorporated into the year-long course, “The Worlds of Ntozake Shange and Digital Storytelling,” which is taught by Kim F. Hall, Ph.D., Lucyle Hook Chair and professor of English and Africana Studies, in partnership with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the International Center of Photography. Hall, a Shange scholar, was also instrumental in the acquisition of the collection.
Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. Today, as the world-renowned liberal arts college for women at Columbia University, Barnard College remains devoted to empowering extraordinary women to become even more exceptional.