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2009 Recipient - Ntozake Shange

Poet, playwright, novelist, and essayist. Ntozake Shange was propelled into the national literary and dramatic scene in 1974 with the dramatic debut of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf and has since maintained a literary presence, garnering awards and honors for her achievements as a dramatist, poet, and novelist.

Shange describes herself as a poet in the American theater, where she sees mostly shallow, stilted, and imitative action taking place on stages. The author seems to have enjoyed a childhood enhanced by material security and intelligent parents who exposed her to cultural influences, including jazz, blues, and soul, and literary artists such as Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Shakespeare, and T. S. Eliot. She often mentions her family's Sunday afternoon variety shows, which sometimes consisted of her mother offering selections from Shakespeare, her father performing on the congas, and the children dancing or playing instruments.

After many turbulent years confronting racism and the lack of support for intelligent black women, while at the University of Southern California, living with other writers, dancers, and musicians she adopted a new name (Ntozake meaning "she who brings her own things," and Shange, "one who walks with lions"), after two South African friends baptized her in the Pacific Ocean. Shange is known for her nonconventional use of English - unorthodox capitalization, punctuation, and spelling, and the use of African American idioms, dialect, slang, and rhythms. Shange's poetry also demonstrates her penchant for complexity and emphasizes her unconventional use of English. Much of her artistic philosophy and theories can be found in her prefaces, such as the preface to Nappy Edges where she states, "quite simple a poem shdfill you up with something / cd make you swoon, stop in yr tracks, change yr mind, or make it up."