Noted playwright, poet and novelist, Ntozake Shange died on Saturday morning. The news was announced via Shange’s official Twitter account. She was 70.
According to The Star Tribune, Shange had suffered multiple strokes in recent years, but her health was improving. She died peacefully in her sleep in an assisted living facility in Bowie, Md.
Shange was born Paulette L. Williams in Trenton, New Jersey on October 18, 1948. Her family was an advocate of the arts and their home welcomed legendary figures in black history including Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Shange took an interest in poetry. When she graduated from high school, she went on to study at Barnard College in New York City. It was there where she met fellow poet Thulani Davis, who she would collaborate with on various works. After graduating from Barnard, she traveled west to USC and earned a masters degree.
In 1975, she returned to New York City from Los Angeles and in the same year, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf came to light. The play was a 20-part choreopoem that explored the lives of women of color in the United States. It was first produced Off-Broadway and then made its way to Broadway’s Booth Theater. The play became an acclaimed hit, earning an Obie Award and other accolades.
The play was adapted into a book in 1977 and then into the Tyler Perry film For Colored Girls which featured an all-star cast of black actresses including Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington, Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tessa Thompson.
Like For Colored Girls, Shange’s other plays such as Spell No. 7 chronicled the black experience. In 1980, she adapted Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children which earned her another Obie Award.
Shange was also known as a primary figure in the Black Arts Movement, which was predominantly male. She was a pioneering figure and female trailblazer alongside notable figures from the movement and history including Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Rosa Guy, Lorraine Hansberry, Lucille Clifton, and Sonia Sanchez.
She continued to write and create throughout her years. In 2003, she was the visiting artist at University of Florida, Gainesville and wrote and oversaw the production of Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines: Layla’s Dream. Her essays, poems, and stories have appeared in numerous publications including The Black Scholar, Yardbird, Ms., Essence Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, VIBE, and Third-World Women
Shange is survived by her daughter, Savannah Shange and grand-daughter Harriet Shange Watkins.