lost in language & sound- essays by Ntozake Shange

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“Like most people of color, Black people in the New World, I came by my passion for literature in a circuitous way, a night journey marked by music, movement, improvisation, and smells of perfume, sweat, and humid star-flickering nights.”- Ntozake Shange (In: from analphabetic to script obsessed.”

My first book by Ntozake Shange and I’m not sure why it took me this long to finally read her. Her writing is very real and true to her feelings and experiences. I love essays on black art and culture, and the more I read about the arts, the more I realized just how important, life-giving, they are for all, but particularly for marginalized people: for us art is truly about survival. And it’s clearly been survival against the odds.

What I appreciated, apart from her lyrical and insightful prose and poetry, was also her diasporic reach and content, from Latin America, the Caribbean, to Africa. For me it’s always been important to read about black art in the context of the black diaspora because there are so many connections between cultures, so many ways we have been influenced by people in other places on the globe.

A lot of the essays dealt with language and as a result Shange is very much involved in deconstructing the English language. I’m learning more about what language means to people whose culture, language, and traditions have been suppressed, and more and more I’m in awe by how those people have managed to contort their language to fit their purposes. Linguistic creativity is brilliant to me and when I read the following passage, it made me realize even more what was at stake here:

“i cant count the number of times i have viscerally wanted to attack deform n maim the language that i waz taught to hate myself in/ the language that perpetuates the notions that cause pain to every black child as s/he learns to speak of the world and the “self.””

And also:

“in order to think n communicate the thoughts n feelings I want to think n communicate/ i haveta fix my tool to my needs/ i have to take it apart to the bone/ so that the malignancies/ fall away/ leaving us space to literally create our own image.” (In: my pen is a machete).

I know less about dance and drama than I do about literature but Shange shared her knowledge and personal experiences. I was grateful to her for allowing me to see the importance and the power of these other art forms.

“We must sing and dance or we shall die an inert, motionless, “sin ritmo” death. “Negros muertos,” killed by a culture afraid of who we are and what we have to say with our bodies, our music, and our brains.” (In: a celebration of black survival).

Read this if you want to perspective on a black female artist’s journey. There is so much honesty and warmth in this book; it gave me a desire to learn more, especially about the world of theatre.

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18 thoughts on “lost in language & sound- essays by Ntozake Shange

  1. I have no idea why I wasn’t following you here. Fixed that now 😊
    Great review! Sounds like an interesting read. I love that you made this a very personal review.

  2. I have not heard of this book. But the quotes you have chosen are so powerful. Especially the thoughts of the writer that says how she could learn to use to language in which she was taught to hate self. It is a very thoughtful one.

  3. This sounds fascinating. I read Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo years ago and you’ve reminded me that I’ve not picked up anything by Shange since – I’ve no idea why! This sounds like a good place to start to rediscover her.

    1. It really is fascinating and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! After reading this one I read Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo and it’s clear what Shange’s themes and interests are, that’s a beautiful book:)

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