I read for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange over the weekend — a chromeopoem that’s been around for decades — it was written in the mid-70s and has bee performed on a number of stages. Despite this, and the fact that the book has been around since 1997, I didn’t hear about it until it was made into a movie. This says more, I suspect about the type of literature I gravitated toward (ugh, poetry? Ugh!) for a large part of my life, and about the culture in which I consumed that literature.
But, reading this book, I thought back to my high school creative writing class, and wondered why my teacher, Mrs. Tuttle, didn’t assign this book. It contains multiple speakers (identified by the colors they wear), who each tell their stories of (inter)personal violence, of surviving, of making it through a day, of being woman, of being colored. Their stories overlap and diverge and are sometimes set to music.
The book covers HIV/AIDS, and unprotected sex, and drug use, and (now) wars in the Middle East. Okay, so maybe these are the reasons this book isn’t taught in high school — or at least the high school I attended. It’s heartbreaking in ways I have trouble articulating. There’s a poem where the voices converge about losing one’s virginity — and what it means to be “grown” after graduating from high school. There’s a poem about rape, and how we buy into stereotypes about “real” rape being perpetrated by strangers. The lady in red, just before she exits the stage, says:
we cd even have em over for dinner/& get raped in our own houses/by invitation/a friend
This hit home for me, particularly so, and particularly after almost an entire year of national media speculating over “real” rape (most recently, in America, with the Stubenville case) and what it means for a woman to accuse rape that doesn’t meet the classic (wrong) definition of rape meaning something that is exclusively done by a stranger, in a dark alley.
That stanza also shows the way Shange plays with language in this chromeopoem. “Could” becomes “cd” (and “would” becomes “wd”), a strategy which creates dialect, and pushes boundaries. It’s refreshing to read (though, admittedly, out of context of the larger poem when I’ve read excerpts of this work in other books, difficult to transition to), and the changes make sense. The sounds become harder, come faster, and work within the rhythm of the chromeopoem.
I wish this is a book I’d read earlier. I wish that this was something that had been taught in my high school — and I hope it’s a book that is taught in some high schools.