Award-winning playwright

by Jessica Hampton

The University and the Walker Art Center are celebrating Black History Month in similar fashion this weekend.
Both welcome Tony and Grammy Award nominee and two-time Obie Award recipient Ntozake Shange as the centerpiece for the weekend festivities.
Shange, a playwright, novelist and poet, will be featured Saturday at the Walker Art Center panel: “African-American Literature for Everyone.”
The panel will be composed of writers, St. Paul public school teachers and a youth representative from the Walker’s Team Arts Council. The event will highlight motivation for youth reading.
Additionally, on Sunday, Shange will read portions of her latest book, “If I Can Cook You Know God Can,” as well as selections from earlier works at the 10th national African-American Read-In. The read-in will take place in the Cowles Auditorium at the Hubert H. Humphrey Center.
Her most famous piece to date is “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enough.” The poem details the degradation and abuse seven black women endure at different stages in their lives.
Both the event at the Walker on Saturday and the one at the Humphrey Center on Sunday will begin around 3 p.m.
Coordinators of the events suggest arriving early, citing Shange’s strong critical acclaim.
“Every year we’ve had increased success,” said Ezra Hyland, primary coordinator of the read-in for the General College. He added that the event is meant to raise the issue of illiteracy.
Following the read-in, children and young adults at the Humphrey Center will have the opportunity to choose one book written by an African-American writer. At last year’s read-in, more than 200 books were given away.
Books were donated this year by Barnes and Noble, Borders and University bookstores.
There are numerous driving forces behind the event on Sunday.
“Illiteracy is a significant problem with prisoners,” Hyland said. He added that low literacy rates and fewer opportunities for higher education force individuals to become “locked in the cycle of welfare.”
Shange will be speaking at numerous engagements across the country throughout February.
In May, former University alumnae Sun Mee Chomet and Julie Estrada will be performing Shange’s poem “for colored girls” with the Penumbra Theater.
Wilson Library also currently houses more than 7,000 volumes of rare African-American literature written in the past 100 years.