Playwright, author, and poet Ntozake Shange, has died at the age of 70. She is best known for writing For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.
The news of Shange’s death was announced via her official Twitter account. The statement indicates that she passed away “peacefully in her sleep” in the early morning hours of October 27. Shange’s sister, Ifa Bayeza, told the Star Tribune following the announcement, “It’s a huge loss for the world. I don’t think there’s a day on the planet when there’s not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister.”
In addition to Bayeza, Shange is survived by sister Bisa Williams; brother Paul T. Williams, Jr.; a daughter, Savannah Shange; and grand-daughter, Harriet Shange Watkins, according to the Tribune.
Born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey, Shange was the eldest of four children born to an acclaimed surgeon and professor of social work. While her family encouraged excellence in academia, they also fostered a strong interest in the arts. Family friends included Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Shange graduated from Barnard College and the University of Southern California, earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in American studies.
Following a period of depression and alienation, which resulted in multiple suicide attempts, Shange assumed a new Zulu name in 1971. Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things," and Shange means "she who walks like a lion."
After graduating from USC, Shange returned to New York City and channeled her own experiences as a Black woman into For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, regarded as her most famous piece of work. She coined the term "choreopoem" to describe the dramatic piece that blends together poetry, dance, music, and song.
The play was adapted into a book in 1977 and then into a Tyler Perry film featuring an ensemble cast of Black actresses including Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Whoopi Goldberg, Tessa Thompson, and Kerry Washington.
Washington was amongst numerous fans, writers, and celebrities to remember Shange on Twitter, sharing a few of her most famous lines.
“Through my tears, I found god in myself and I loved her fiercely - #NtozakeShange. So grateful for her vision and voice,” Washington wrote.
Some of Shange’s other notable theater works include A Photograph: A Study of Cruelty (1977) and Spell No. 7 (1979). She penned many poetry collections, including nappy edges in 1978, as well as a plethora of novels and children's books.