Any and all posts, rants and raves about the film adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s choral poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, have gotten just what’s coming to them…attention, retweets, ping backs, Facebook recommends. I remember many moons ago, a young Shange, hot off the success of her “for colored girls” Broadway run, gave the commencement address at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. She was accessorized from head to toe–I mean little girl barrettes and gummy bear colored jelly bean sandals. [That’s what they wore in those days.] I often wondered how those jelly bean shoes survived hot NYC asphalt in August without sticking to your feet. Shange strutted up to the microphone and her first words were….
“Let me tell you about life!”
In Genesis, the first words are “Let there be light.” For some reason, the first words of Shange’s graduation speech, sent my mind into a darkness of indifference. I suppose we were both of our ages. Though she was probably light years ahead in life experiences than I, for some reason, I felt there was still many more life lessons ahead of us to learn. For all the success and raves about “for colored girls….” at that time I was asking for the light especially for graduates who were about to embark on the next chapter.
I never saw the play. I read the poem, and on paper, I could say Shange definitely had a gift for language. There was a strong desire to be the light or find the magic in life. That’s probably what drew me to her first novel, “Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo.” First words:
Where there is a woman, there is magic.
Need I say more? This is a book about 3 sisters (something about 3 in stories about sisters) in the South Carolina Lowcountry. They are all artists. Sassafras writes poetry and weaves; Cypress dances; Indigo makes dolls. Sassafras and Cypress move about the map; Indigo stays put with the old ways and the magic. I read it many years ago when I was a cloth doll maker, and like Indigo, I used to play the violin. The book is a combination of poetry, prose, letters, recipes. Not perfect fiction, but perfectly yummy.
Recently, I tripped up on a book of Ntozake Shange’s food writing in the volume If I Can Cook/You Know God Can published by Beacon Press in 1999. The forward was written by culinary anthropologist/writer Vertamae Grosvenor who authored (now out of print), Vibration Cooking: The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl and Vertamae Cooks In the Americas Family which was a PBS series. I use Vertamae’s recipe for ground nut stew. I’ll never forget when I asked her whether I should get fresh ground peanut butter, she responded “Use Skippy.”
I don’t own a copy of Shange’s If You Can Cook, but again, it looks like a yummy read. I’ll give Shange’s first words to a chapter title: “What’d You People Call That?” followed by a quote from one of Edwidge Danticat’s short stories in Krik Krak. In this volume Shange appears to have woven together recipes, and stories of collard greens, cornbread, Middle Passage, Brazil, and music, producing another Shange feast. Though I’m not one to lift up the virtues of pigs tails or feet, I do respect their cultural and sometimes culinary significance. Will If You Can Cook make you fat or phat?
There’s something intoxicating about being magical or living in a magical reality. For some it’s a life raft or even compass for a complex life of ebb and flow. For others the desire for magical living can be like a house of mirrors, reflecting the beauty and grief of past, present and future simultaneously, with no exit signs.
Sure thing, we can’t get the rainbow without the rain. The magical must come to some peace with the plain and simple. Rainbows also cannot be seen without the light. Even in darkness, be like Harriet Tubman – follow the North star. And that is good.