Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf
includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
First published in 1975 and praised by The New Yorker for “encompassing…every feeling a woman has ever had,” For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf uses a complement of female narrators to examine what it is like to be of color and female in America. More than thirty-five years after its inception, the Obie-Award winning For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf continues to be read and performed around the country and throughout the world.
In her new introduction to the work, Ntozake Shange reflects on the legacy of her best-known work: “For Colored Girls still is a women’s trip, and the connection we can make through it, with each other and for each other, is to empower us all.”
Topics and Questions for Discussion
- How does “dark phrases,” the opening poem of For Colored Girls…, evoke the psychological states of the many narrators of the work in these lines: “she’s half-notes scattered/ without rhythm/ no tune/ sing her sighs/ sing the song of her possibilities…”? (p. 5) How might the phrase: “sing the song of her possibilities,” allude to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself…”? In what ways is For Colored Girls… a celebration of the women it profiles.
- In “graduation nite,” the speaker loses her virginity in a Buick the same night as her high school graduation. To what extent does her ecstatic embrace of adulthood in lines like: “WE WAZ GROWN WE WAZ FINALLY GROWN,” both hint at her innocence, and at its loss? (p. 9) Of the two rites of passage detailed in this poem, which seems to affect the poem’s speaker, the lady in yellow, more profoundly, and why?
- How does the end of an affair narrated by the lady in red in “no assistance,” capture the pathos of a romantic break-up: “this note is attached to a plant/ i’ve been watering since the day i met you/ you may water it/ yr damn self.” (p. 14) How does the disappointed lady in red fit into the spectrum of ‘colored girls’ Shange profiles in this work?
- How does the author’s juxtaposition of a poem about rape, “latent rapists,” (pp. 17-21) with a poem about abortion, “abortion cycle #1” (p. 22-23) highlight the sexual vulnerabilities and dangers faced by many of her female speakers? How does the sequence of poems up to this point in For Colored Girls… establish a narrative of sexual awakening, sexual experience, and sexual anguish? To what extent do you think the author intends this series of events to be representative of the experience of women of color more generally?
- How does the appearance of Sechita in the poem of the same name change the direction of the narrative in For Colored Girls…? (p. 23) How did this shift impact you as a reader? To what extent is Sechita a sympathetic figure?
- In the poem, “toussaint,” the lady in brown describes an incident from childhood where she was disqualified from winning a library contest held for a “colored child” who could “read 15 books in three weeks” because she rhapsodized about a book from the adult reading room about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. (pp. 25-30) How does this poem comment on racial inequality both directly and indirectly? How does the narrator’s chance encounter with Toussaint Jones enable her to move beyond her obsession with L’Ouverture?
- In the poem, “pyramid,” about three girlfriends and the one man they all desire: “we all saw him at the same time/ & he saw us,” how would you characterize the author’s depiction of female friendship? (pp. 39-42) How does the male romantic interest in “pyramid” compare to the author’s other depictions of boys and men in For Colored Girls…?
- How does the sequence of four “no more love poems” (pp. 42-48) connect to the visions of romantic love developed in For Colored Girls…? Why does each of the speakers of the “no more love poems” reject love, and what do their rejections suggest about the kinds of love they are offered in return?
- How do the poems “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff” (pp. 49-51) and “sorry” (pp. 52-55) seem to be in dialogue with each other? What do both poems have in common? How does the author’s decision to blur the boundaries between poems impact your sense of the progress of the narrative as a whole? Given that For Colored Girls… is meant to be performed, how might this blurring of transitions be strategic?
- How does the relationship between Crystal and Beau Willie depicted in “a nite with beau willie brown” (pp. 55-60) capture the terror of domestic violence? How does the author’s decision to end the poem with Crystal’s line: “but I cd only whisper/ & he dropped em,” emphasize the powerlessness of the victims of domestic violence?
- For Colored Girls… has elicited criticism from some male readers who feel that they are unfairly stereotyped in the work as abusive or violent by virtue of their sex. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this critique? Why might the author have chosen to explore the darker side of relationships between women and men in this work, and how does her decision affect your understanding of the gender divide in our culture?
- “Positive” is one of the poems that has been added to this edition of For Colored Girls… How does this new poem carry the book into the twenty-first century?
- Of the many poems in For Colored Girls…, which did you find most powerful and why? The title of the collection alludes to colored women who have considered suicide. What part, if any, does suicide seem to play in the scenarios described in the individual poems?
- Stage a dramatic reading of For Colored Girls…. Decide as a group how much of the poem will be performed and assign each member of your book club a role, such as “lady in red” or “lady in brown.” You might consider inviting friends or family members as an audience. After the presentation, discuss with your group how the emotional impact of the work changes when it is performed.
- Which of the rites of passage and femininity explored in For Colored Girls… did you feel resonated most closely with your own life experiences? Which of the narrators did you feel most closely aligned with and why? Did any of the lines in the work as a whole ring especially true to you? Which ones? You may want to share your findings and compare experiences with fellow book club members.
- For Colored Girls… is a choreopoem, a work that combines poetry and dance as a unique literary genre. If you were to write a choreopoem about some aspect of your life experiences, what time periods would you focus on? What moments in your life have shaped you most indelibly? Who would you cast in the chorus of “back-up” voices who would support this rendering of your life? Try writing a choreopoem about a special event in your life and share with your reading group members.