“A Poet With Words Trapped Inside”
For the last decade, health problems have buffeted her relationship with language. First a pair of small strokes left her temporarily unable to read; then, in 2011, a neurological disorder called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy took control of her hands and feet, leaving her unable to type or write without difficulty.
“I can’t work on a computer and I can’t write very well, either,” she said the other day, her words still slightly slurred from the strokes. “It sort of feels empty, not like I’m swollen with words. I feel like there’s an astringent being applied to my body so that everything is getting very tight and I can’t release it right this minute.”
All of this has shaped the new work, which she calls a “choreoessay,” in the same way that For Colored Girls was a “choreopoem,” said Claude Sloan, a longtime friend and director who shares a brownstone with her in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “Her body is conspiring against her,” Mr. Sloan said. “Her art has always told the story of people who are suffering, and given meaning to their struggle. Now she’s looking back and asking, ‘What is art going to be for me in the body that I have now?’ ”
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Sloan wheeled Ms. Shange into the house of a neighbor, Evette Lewis, where she drank soda and talked about her adventures with voice recognition software.
“Spell-check ruins my work,” she said. “It fixes all my slang and dialect into standard English. So I’m caught in a tangle of technology that feels very foreign to me.”