Generally speaking, I would prefer people not to touch me, but lately, I’ve been feeling like I need a laying on of hands. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, it is when the faithful encircle a brother or sister, and stretch out their hands and pray for and speak well over a brother or sister in the faith. It has taken on several secular meanings, but we will not go into those here. (But if that’s where your mind went when you read this, you’re my kind of people.)
Anyway this quest for a spiritual touch lead me to look for my copy of “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf.” I was upset that I couldn’t find my copy, so I did what any modern girl who already has too much stuff would do. I ordered another copy on Amazon. When I got the new copy, the book was noticeably thicker than my original copy. I flipped through it and found notes from the author, and several pictures from more recent film and stage adaptations of the book.
You should know that “for colored girls” is nearly as sacred to me as the holy writ. I know “Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff” almost as well as I know the 23rd Psalm. The choreopoem was as important to my formative years as was every Sunday school lesson I ever learned. Just as the Bible was God’s love letter to God’s people, for colored girls was a love letter to black women. I’m not ashamed to say I have read the entirety of this great work by Ntozake Shange many more times than I have read the Bible cover to cover.
I revisit the book probably once a year. So I was taken aback when I came across a poem I hadn’t read before. Taken aback isn’t the right word here. I was confused. You ever heard a preacher take his text and be surprised, because you’ve never heard the words before? That was me, flipping back and forth through these familiar pages, trying to figure out where those words came from. I stopped, and went to the front of book, only to find that the author, Ms. Her Own Things, herself, had added this poem, and changed a few things about the most heartbreaking poem in the whole book.
So now I’m not taken aback. I’m mad. How dare she? This book was a gift to every little colored girl in every corner of the world. At least, it was a love letter to all the little colored girls in my corner of the world. Changing it upset me. It made me grieve for what was there before the change. I have trouble adjusting to this new reality. I don’t like it.
But you know what? Sister Shange has what is called authorial privilege. Simply stated, she wrote it. She has the right to change it. She can add or delete whatever she wants. I don’t have to like it. And no matter how much I felt like it belonged to me, it’s her story, not mine. She can change it any way and any time she wants.
We are halfway through 2021 and I think it’s time to revisit, and possibly revise our goals. My weight loss goal for the year seems a lot less realistic than it did in January when I wrote it. I’ve got some professional goals for this month that don’t seem plausible in the next couple of days. The power of the pen gives me the opportunity to cross out and rewrite any of the things on my list. So take a note or two from the goddess of the choreopoem. You own the rights to your story . It doesn’t matter whether or not any one else likes it. Revisit and revise as often as YOU see fit.