Lost in Language and Sound: Or How I Found My Way to the Arts: Essays

Overview

A vibrant and vital collection that celebrates the three most important muses in the life and work of Ntozake Shange—language, music, and dance.

In this deeply personal book, the celebrated writer reflects on what it means to be an artist, a woman, and a woman of color through a beautiful combination of memoir and essay. She describes where her love for creative forces began—in her childhood home, a place where imagination reigned and boredom wasn't allowed. The essays...

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Overview

A vibrant and vital collection that celebrates the three most important muses in the life and work of Ntozake Shange—language, music, and dance.

In this deeply personal book, the celebrated writer reflects on what it means to be an artist, a woman, and a woman of color through a beautiful combination of memoir and essay. She describes where her love for creative forces began—in her childhood home, a place where imagination reigned and boredom wasn't allowed. The essays tell stories ranging from the poignant origin of her celebrated play "for colored girls" to why Shange needed to deconstruct the English language to make that production work, from the intensity of the female experience and the black experience as separate entities to the difficulty of living both lives simultaneously; from the intense love of jazz bestowed on her by her father to a similar obsession with dance, which came from her mother. With deep sincerity, attention, and her legendary candor, Shange's collection progresses from the public arena to the private, gathering along the way the passions and insights of an author who writes with “such exquisite care and beauty that anybody can relate to her message” (Clive Barnes, The New York Times).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist Shange (Betsey Brown) immerses the reader in the written and spoken fabric of her upbringing and her life as an artist in this evocative melding of essay and memoir. Language is examined and celebrated, moving beyond the written word and into the realm of performance, particularly Shange’s most famous work, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, which she describes as a “choreopoem.” The raw power of her writing, from the subject matter to her unconventional punctuation, aligns perfectly with the crescendo of for colored girls’s success, beginning small in the backrooms of California’s bars and ending up on Broadway. Shange also hones in on language’s dual power of expression and exploitation, most adroitly in “2 Live Crew,” where she makes a compelling case against the misogynistic lyrics of many black male rap groups and their effect on black women. Music and dancing play huge roles in her life, from her parents’ penchant for jazz and blues to her own need to express herself through dance, as well as incorporating performance into her written work. In “dear daddy, ‘el amor que tu me das...,’” one of the quietest and most moving pieces despite its aural undertones, Shange tells her deceased father that there’s “no music I hear without sensing you.” This is a profoundly personal yet all-encompassing exploration of words, movement, and the state of race in America. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

"...if there's another writer in America who can write prose like this - with this sort of intricate layering of linguistic play - I wish someone would direct me to them.... If Shelley were reborn as a black woman in the mid-20th century, maybe he would write like this.... Shange roars with pure literary fire."

The San Francisco Chronicle

 

"The energy of Ntozake Shange’s writing is often spellbinding.... lost in language & sound is an enthralling look into the engaged life and mind of a huge-hearted storyteller."

The Dallas Morning News

 

"The raw power of her writing, from the subject matter to her unconventional punctuation, aligns perfectly with the crescendo of for colored girls’s success.... This is a profoundly personal yet all-encompassing exploration of words, movement, and the state of race in America."

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

 

"...emotional, grateful and often wise."

Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Best known for her Tony-nominated, Obie-winning For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Shange has also written novels (Liliane), poetry (Los Angeles Times Book Award winner Three Pieces), essays (If I Can Cook You Know God Can), and children's books (Coretta Scott) by the dozens. Here, she touches on memoir, examining her experiences as an artist, woman, and woman of color and the influence of her jazz-loving father and dance-loving mother while also reflecting on the creative process. There's nothing more satisfying than hearing a seasoned artist talk about art, and the particularities of Shange's line-crossing life make her story important for many readers.
Kirkus Reviews
Acclaimed playwright Shange (Ellington Was Not a Street, 2004, etc.) offers a collection of personal essays dealing with anger, pride, creativity, family, identity, mental health and love. The author, who also writes poetry, children's books and novels, visits just about every human emotion in these pieces, which date from various decades in her life. In some, she employs her idiosyncratic spelling (waz, enuf), capitalization (none) and punctuation (minimal), but the later pieces adhere to more conventional mechanics--though never to conventional ideas. Her anger is evident throughout--from patronizing whites to black rappers (whose misogynistic lyrics and ideas she equates with the vileness that produced slavery) to the silence of black male intellectuals, whom she accuses of sanctioning rappers' misogyny. She writes informatively about the genesis of her most famous work of dram for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, examines her personal history for her love of language, dance and music and confesses, near the end, that she actually likes men--though she believes that most of them have one goal in mind with women. Among her most affecting pieces are two short essays about her parents, one for each. Her father was a physician, and Shange writes emotionally about his love of music and his exuberant dancing with her mother. She recalls hiding in her mother's closet, absorbing her. She includes a promising piece about learning other languages, but spoils it with chunks of block quotations that effectively silence her voice and still her rhythm, as well as a touching poem addressed to an unnamed young poet. Along the way, Shange offers glimpses of her visits to a shrink, though she does not provide any clinical diagnosis, just some hints of malaise and unhappiness. Uneven but emotional, grateful and often wise.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312206161
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/6/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ntozake Shange

NTOZAKE SHANGE is a renowned novelist, playwright, and poet. Her works include the Obie Award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, and the novels Betsey Brown, Liliane, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, and Some Sing, Some Cry, which she co-authored with her sister, Ifa Bayeza. Among her honors and awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Brooklyn.

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