The past two weeks we’ve been working with Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf and the powerful writing combined with our class’ incredible performance skills have made this a really inspiring time at the jail. I brought in several different monologues from the play but the one that really resonated with most of the women is called “somebody almost walked off wid all my stuff”.
now give me my stuff/ i see ya hidin my laugh/ & how i
sit wif my legs open sometimes/ to give my crotch
some sunlight/ & there goes my love my toes my chewed
up finger nails/ niggah/ wif the curls in yr hair/
mr. louisiana hot link/ i want my stuff back/
my rhytums & my voice/ open my mouth/ & let me talk ya
outta/ throwin my shit in the sewar/ this is some delicate
leg & whimsical kiss/ i gotta have to give to my choice/
without you runnin off wit alla my shit/
now you cant have me less i give me away/ & i waz
doin all that/ til ya run off on a good thing/
who is this you left me wit/ some simple bitch
widda bad attitude/ i wants my things/
We had long discussions in both classes about what this poem was about, and why the author sounds so angry about having her stuff taken. All of the women got it instantly – they got the metaphor and that the “stuff” is her self, her soul, her heart, her spirit. All of the things about herself that are important to her.
I wanted to use this an example of how to work from a text so we discussed two of the big questions: who is she speaking to and what’s her objective? What does she want? I remember going line by line through scripts, writing the objective beside each for what felt like hundreds of pages. To love, to ask, to seek, to demand.
“These need to be strong words,” Michelle said. “It’s easier that play something strong. You can always back away from it later.” We talked about it and came up with a list included
to declare independence
and our favorite: to set on fire with my words
Although most of the women identified the object of the speech as an ex-lover, a boyfriend or someone who had taken the speaker’s virginity, one woman said that she was speaking to her addiction. Another woman said this was to the jail itself. “Del Valle has taken all these things from me – my joy, my dance, my rhythms.”
The performances of these lines were so powerful – even though one woman kept saying, “I’m embarrassed, it’s embarrassing to do this,” once she sat back down she declared, “That felt good. I got something off my chest.” These words are easy for women to own, to make their own, which is such a testament to Ms. Shange’s writing. I finally ordered the full script off of Amazon today; we’ll be using this again and again.