Conceived by inaugural playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza, the two-year playwriting residency is named in honor of the late Public Theater artist and Barnard alum Ntozake Shange. Awarded to a distinguished woman, femme, trans, or non-binary playwright of the African diaspora, the residency will include a salary with benefits and full support to selected playwrights.
Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf premiered at the Public in 1976. The production won the 1977 Obie Award for Distinguished Production and transferred to Broadway later that year, when it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play; Trazana Beverley received the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. In 2019 The Public revived for colored girls…, and in 2022 that production transferred to Broadway, where it was directed and choreographed by Camille A. Brown, earning seven Tony nominations. The original Broadway production of for colored girls… remains the longest-running play by an African American writer in Broadway history.
“Ntozake Shange was a brave and brilliant pioneer, changing the American theatre landscape and changing the way Black women are perceived in the United States. I am thrilled to be joining with Barnard, where Ntozake studied and where her papers now reside, in honoring her. Barnard is an extraordinary school, and our shared values make this partnership a natural one,” said Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. “And what better honor than to continue to support women, femmes, and non-binary playwrights of the African Diaspora? Erika Dickerson-Despenza, the first writer to hold this position, is both a brilliant playwright and a fierce social activist. Like Ntozake, her art is inseparable from her activism. Her talent and vision will enrich us all.”
Dickerson-Despenza elaborated, “I have crafted a residency that will outlast me; one that will enable women, femmes, and non-binary scholar-playwrights of the African Diaspora who help shape the future by writing about and beyond the crises of their time to have a comfortable salary, healthcare, and access to the most prestigious and resourced Off-Broadway theatres and Barnard College, home of Shange’s archives and the groundbreaking Barnard Center for Research on Women.”
Eustis added, “This is what both universities and non-profit theatres need to do: provide jobs for writers and artists which are not dependent on capitalism and the tyranny of the market. Providing support for writers like Erika will bring cultural riches to Barnard and The Public, but more importantly her work will benefit the field and the nation as a whole. What a marvelous way to honor Ntozake!”
For more information, and to learn about supporting future Ntozake Shange Social Justice Theater Residencies, go here.