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Remembering Poet, Playwright, and Former UF Professor Ntozake Shangé

From 2002 to 2006, poet and playwright Ntozake Shangé was a faculty member in the then Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research. She worked with undergraduate and graduate students, conducted research on local slave cemeteries, and collaborated with College of the Arts Professor Mikell Pinkney and UF students on a world-premiere production of her choreo-poem “Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines: Layla’s Dream.” Bobbi Korner was, at the time of Professor Shangé’s UF appointment, an Associate Dean in UF’s College of the Arts. Dean Korner worked with the Director of the Center, Angel Kwolek- Folland, to bring Professor Shangé to UF. Professor Ntozake Shangé passed away October 27th at the age of 70. Among her many achievements was her Tony Award- nominated play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.” Dean Korner remembers Professor Shangé time at UF, and its importance to interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching.

“my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul and gender” — Ntozake ShangÉ, for colored girls who have considered suicide /when the rainbow is enuf

Mikell Pinkney [who knew Ntozake from his theater connections] reached out to me to see what we might be able to do to have her at UF as an artist-in-residence. We found out that she was interested in moving from her teaching situation and I reached out to Angel. Angel and I met with our two deans at the time (Don McGlothlin [from COTA] and Neil Sullivan [from CLAS]) and they were both supportive. I recall Neil Sullivan was particularly enthusiastic, recognizing the potential both for collaboration across colleges and for what someone of her poetic imagination would add to our collective, creative mix. Subsequent to the production of her play, Layla’s Dream, we discussed possibilities of tenure. Angel and I worked with the deans and Provost to create the option for an interdisciplinary, cross-college tenure and promotion review committee, which hadn’t been possible before. The collaboration across colleges that began when Ntozake came had an impact beyond her hire. The cross-college appointment became a model for other, similar, interdisciplinary hires. Sometimes, when you dare to support creative people and ideas, there are strong impacts that challenge a bureaucracy and help it work more effectively for the future. Ntozake was all about that in her life and artistic work and the administrative collaboration behind the scenes to bring her to UF had an impact on our students who had the chance to see the possibilities and pitfalls of creative collaboration. Further, administrators indulged in creative collaboration that created new options for the future. Bringing Ntozake to UF is an example of the ripple effect of risking a bit in administrative leadership.

We remember and honor Professor Ntozake Shangé immense contributions to feminist and women of color scholarship and creative production.