Famed poet, playwright, novelist Ntozake Shange wins 2016 Langston Hughes Medal

October 24, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Poet/playwright Ntozake Shange, winner of the 2106 Langston Hughes Medal awarded by the City College of New York  Photo courtesy of Ntozkae Shange

Acclaimed longtime Brooklyn-based writer will receive prestigious honor from City College of New York

Ntozake Shange, the famed poet and playwright who authored the Obie-Award-winning play “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” is the 2016 winner of the Langston Hughes Medal, officials at the City College of New York announced Monday.

Shange, 68, lived and worked in Brooklyn for nearly a decade. She joins such literary luminaries as James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, August Wilson, Walter Mosley and Edwidge Danticat in receiving the medal. It is awarded “to highly distinguished writers from throughout the African-American diaspora for their impressive works of poetry, fiction, drama and critical essays that help celebrate the memory of Langston Hughes.”

Hughes rose to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s as a pioneer of blues and jazz poetry, and through his depiction of urban African-American folk life became a central figure in what was called the “Harlem Renaissance.”

Since 1978, City College has sponsored the Langston Hughes Festival to “celebrate and expand upon the literary legacy of the poet laureate of Harlem.” Shange will be presented with this year’s Langston Hughes Medal on Nov. 17 at festival ceremonies in the Aaron Davis Hall at the college.

“Ntozake Shange is regarded as one of America’s greatest living writers — an acknowledged master in the genres of drama, fiction, memoir and poetry,” said Retha Powers, director of the Langston Hughes Festival. “She has been a voice for different social justice movements and, above all, embodied the ongoing struggle of black women for equality, dignity and respect for their enormous contribution to human culture.”

Born Paulette Williams on Oct. 18, 1948, in Trenton, N.J., Shange studied at Barnard College and the University of Southern California, where she took the Xhosa Zulu dialect names Ntozake (she who comes into her own things) and Shange (she who walks like a lion).

In her prolific career, Shange has written 15 plays, 19 collections of poetry, six novels, five children’s books, three collections of essays and a memoir called “Lost in Language and Sound.”

“for colored girls,” the work for which Shange is most famous, rocketed to success on Broadway in 1976 and 1977, winning an Obie and receiving Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award nominations. Filmmaker Tyler Perry made it into a movie in 2010.

“Performed by an ensemble of seven African-American women, it combines monologues, movement and poems to describe the pain and struggle women face because of racism and sexism,” Langston Hughes Festival officials said.