“[Ntozake] Shange portrays black girlhood in the United States attentively and masterfully as a site of sophisticated awareness of race and gender coupled with naiveté about the world based on age and experience. Her black girls use black girl thought to assess and navigate an array of circumstances from the memories of lady in brown, to gleeful children’s games, to naomi’s words to her father in “for colored girls” (1977) and from Indigo’s communing with the spirits, to her handmade dolls, and to her raucous violin-playing in Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (1982). In each of these contexts Shange creates black girls who make decisions based on their understanding of the spheres of influence that their race, gender, and age afford them in a world rife with anti-black racism, sexism, and ageism. Christina Sharpe’s (2016) astute assessment of the twenty-first century asserts that black people are in “a lived and undeclared state of emergency” in which “we might envision, imagine, something else” (100). The “something else” that black girl thought can inspire black people to do as we navigate the complex social contexts that most inform our lives, is to affirm our unique outsider within standpoint, surround ourselves with a community of subversive elders, be attentive to the needs of our imagination, and seek experiences that bring us joy” (44-45).

Excerpt from Naila Keleta-Mae’s article “Black girl thought in the work of Ntozake Shange” in the journal Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (12 (2) 2019: 32-47).