Pioneering ‘For Colored Girls…” playwright and poet, Ntozake Shange, dies at 70

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Playwright, poet, novelist, and pioneer are just a few of the monikers attached to he name Ntozake Shange, who is best known for her poem turned play turned film, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.” The 70-year old died Saturday morning in her sleep at an assisted living facility in Bowie, MD, according to the Star Tribune. 

News of her passing was also provided by her family through her Twitter account saying, “To our extended family and friends, it is with sorrow that we inform you that our loved one, Ntozake Shange, passed away peacefully in her sleep in the early morning of October 27, 2018. Memorial information / details will follow at a later date.”  

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Just days before, Shange tweeted out details about a book signing appearance at the Washington D.C. hot spot, Busboys and Poets. She was in the process of creating new work after finally being on the mend from the multiple strokes she suffered in recent years.

Her sister and fellow playwright Ifa Bayeza knows that Shange’s passing will be felt by countless people across the world.

“Zake was a woman of extravagance and flourish, and she left quickly without suffering,” Bayeza told the Star Tribune.. “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.”

Born Paulette L. Williams to an Air Force surgeon and social worker mother in Trenton, NJ, Shange cultivated her passion for the melodic marriage of words from an early age. Issues of racism and sexism populated her work often times based on her personal experiences. Shange changed her name in 1971 after surviving a suicide attempt. Ntozake means “things that belong to her” in the Xhosa language and Shange means “he/she who walks/lives with lions” in Zulu.

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Shange introduced her first major work as the series of thematic feminist poetic monologues, “For Colored Girls” in 1975 documenting the positive and negative experiences of several Black women characters. The choreopoem (to be performed along with dance movements and music) was eventually turned into an off-Broadway play and then debuted on Broadway in 1976. Tyler Perry wrote, directed and produced the film version in 2010.

Shange wrote more than a dozen plays and several novels and books of poetry.

She is also survived by her daughter, Savannah Shange, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, grand daughter Harriet Shange Watkins, another sister Bisa Williams, a her brother Paul T. Williams, Jr.

The art community sends the family their condolences on this momentous loss.