Ntozake Shange Talks About a New Struggle With Words, and Health

The playwright opens up about being caught between a crippling neurological disorder and the limits of technology.

By Jamilah King Oct 28, 2013

"I can’t count the times I viscerally wanted to attack, deform and maim the language I was taught to hate myself in," says a character in Ntozake Shange’s new choreoplay, "Lost in Language and Sound," which recently premiered in New York City. But the award-winning playwright, 65, is in a new battle with language, her body, and the technology that’s supposed to make life easier.

The New York Times recently profiled Shange and her battle against a neurological disorder called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy that’s left her unable to write or type without difficulty. The disorder came after a pair of strokes that left her temporarily unable to read.

"I can’t work on a computer and I can’t write very well, either," Shange told the Times. "It sort of feels empty, not like I’m swollen with words. I feel like there’s an astringent being applied to my body so that everything is getting very tight and I can’t release it right this minute."

"Spell-check ruins my work," she added. "It fixes all my slang and dialect into standard English. So I’m caught in a tangle of technology that feels very foreign to me. My characters don’t talk necessarily in a normal American way of talking. They talk a little different. So I’m having a struggle with the grammar."

Shange is most known for her hit 1975 choreoplay "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf" and later advised filmmaker Tyler Perry in his 2010 film adaptation of the play. Both were wildly successful. 

Read more at the New York Times