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R.I.P. Ntozake Shange, playwright behind For Colored Girls

Photo: Stephen Lovekin (Getty Images)

According to The Hollywood Reporter, playwright, poet, and novelist Ntozake Shange—best known for writing For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf—has died. The news was confirmed in a statement from Shange’s family and friends, who promised more information at a later date in a tweet. Shange suffered a series of strokes in 2004 and had been living in an assisted living facility in Maryland. She was 70.


Shange, born Paulette Williams In New Jersey in 1948, moved to St. Louis at a young age with her family so she could learn about poetry and attend “gifted” classes at a formerly white school that had just been forced to desegregate due to the Brown V. Board Of Education decision. In school, she endured a significant level of racism and hostility, which would go on to have an important impact on her artistic works. Later, she went to Barnard College in New York City and then got her master’s degree at the University Of Southern California. Following a period of depression, Shange decided to make a change in her life, signified by her name change. A New York Times piece from 1994 explains that Ntozake is Zulu for “she who comes with her own things” and Shange means “who walks like a lion.” She also abandoned her birth name because, “as a feminist,” she thought it was “ridiculous to be named after a boy.”

In the ‘70s, Shange moved back to New York, writing what would become the legendary production For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf. Shange described the work as a “choreopoem,” meaning it was a combination of poetry, dance, acting, and music. The theater piece tells the stories of seven unnamed black women dealing with pressing issues like racism, sexism, abortion, and domestic violence. The show eventually made it to Broadway and won several awards, with Shange publishing it as a book in 1977 and then—many years later—Tyler Perry turned it into a film with Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, and Kerry Washington. In a post on Twitter, Washington quoted Shange and said that she’s “so grateful for her vision and voice.”


Outside of For Colored Girls, Shange also wrote the poetry collection Nappy Edges, the novel Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, and a handful of children’s books. She is survived by her sisters, her brother, and her daughter.


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