Creation Is Everything You Do: Shange, The Sisterhood & Black Collectivity

In the 1970s black women writers began gathering in Brooklyn and Manhattan, forming themselves into a group who came to be informally known as The Sisterhood. Uplifting each others’ lives and honing their craft, they were central to an explosion of 1970s & 80s literature that included for colored girls who have considered a suicide when the rainbow is enuf. On social media, the photo of these future literary legends enjoying each other’s style and presence is almost iconic. Join our invited writers for a discussion of Shange’s place in this and other collectives. Where does literary organizing fit into histories of black feminist activism? What lessons can these earlier groups offer young women today about organizing and cultivating artistic communities? And how can they claim space for radical voices?


  • Patricia Spears Jones is a poet and winner of the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets and Writers. She is author of A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems which was a Finalist for the PSA’s William Carlos Williams Prize and the Patterson Poetry Prize and featured a Pushcart Prize winning poem. She has 10 additional publications: poetry books, chapbooks and works in anthologies such as Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin; Truth to Power: Writers Respond to The Rhetoric of Hate and Fear; and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. She is a Black Earth Institute senior fellow emeritus and organizer of American Poets Congress.
  • Mecca Jamiliah Sullivan is an Assistant Professor of English at Bryn Mawr College, where she teaches courses in African American poetry and poetics, black feminist literature, and creative writing. She is the author of the short story collection, Blue Talk and Love, winner of the Judith Markowitz Award from Lambda Literary. Her fiction explores the intellectual, emotional, and bodily lives of young black women through voice, music, and hip-hop inflected magical realist techniques. Her forthcoming scholarly book, The Poetics of Difference: Queer Feminist Forms in the African Diaspora, explores the politics of experiment in black queer and feminist literary cultures.
  • Courtney Thorsson is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Oregon, where she teaches, studies, and writes about African American literature. Her first book, Women’s Work: Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women’s Novels (Virginia 2013) argues that Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, and Toni Morrison reclaim and revise cultural nationalism in their novels of the 1980s and 90s. Her essays have appeared in CallalooAfrican American ReviewMELUSGastronomicaFoodscapes: Food, Space, and Place in a Global SocietyContemporary Literature; and Public Books. Her forthcoming book is an interpretive cultural history of The Sisterhood and Black Women’s literary organizing in the late 1970s.

Introduction by:

  • Ambassador (ret) Bisa Williams, sister of the late Ntozake Shange and former career diplomat. She leads The Carter Center’s effort as Independent Observer of implementation of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, is a Senior Fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, and serves as Chair of the Board of Health & Development International (HDI), an NGO providing innovative solutions to complex, neglected global health problems.

Moderated by Monica Miller, Professor of English and Africana Studies and Dean of Faculty Diversity and Development and Alexandra Watson, Lecturer in English and First Year Writing.

This event is part of the two-year long Shange Magic Project, a collaboration of BLAIS and Africana Studies. This event will be live-captioned. If you have accessibility needs, please contact Martha Tenney (


Register to Attend

Image: The Sisterhood Members, 1977. (front row from left) Nana Maynard, Ntozake Shange, Louise Meriwether (back row from left) Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, Alice Walker, Audrey Edwards, Toni Morrison and June Jordan. From the June Jordan Papers, 1936-2002; MC 513. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.