Written by Hilton Als and originally published in The New Yorker:
I am writing this a day after my favorite sister’s birthday. She was very dear to me. She would have been sixty-nine this fall. She died two years ago, another casualty of M.S. and poor-black-girl-in-America life. My sister’s absence became even more pronounced for me when the poet, playwright, and author Ntozake Shange died on October 27th. Shange was just seventy when she passed and had been living in an assisted-care facility in Maryland. When my sister died, she had been living in an assisted-care facility in Brooklyn. My sister’s birthday, Shange’s death—each consumed me and left me sitting in the middle of a kind of loneliness which I do not want to bear but had to bear, because I wanted to tell you something about these women, their strengths and weaknesses, and the profound effect that each had on my life and my consciousness, as a writer and a feminist.