Ntozake Shange, the poet, novelist and pioneering playwright responsible for the choreopoem, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” died on Saturday (October 27).
The 70-year-old died in her sleep Saturday morning in an assisted living facility in Bowie, Md., where she lived.
The news was confirmed on Shange’s social media pages by her loving family.
“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.–The family of Ntozake Shange”
According to the Star Tribune, Shange suffered multiple strokes in recent years, but she had been on the mend lately, creating new work and doing readings locally.
“Zake was a woman of extravagance and flourish, and she left quickly without suffering,” said Ifa Bayeza, her sister who also is a playwright and theater artist, in a statement.
“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.”
During her illustrious career, Shange wrote numerous novels such as Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, Liliane, and Betsey Brown and multiple plays, including her well-known for her award-winning 1975 off-Broadway, Broadway transferred play “For Colored Girls When Considering Suicide Isn’t Enuf.”
During its run, “For Colored Girls” was nominated for a Tony, Grammy, and an Emmy.
That groundbreaking work, which incorporated contemporary dance, powerful first-person narratives and beautiful poetry, served as an empowering Black feminist radical text in the 70s, which was part of an ongoing trend of other works that dealt with the dilemma of the identity, self, abusive relationships and the dilemmas of being Black and female.
During this time, Shange—along with other writers including Alice Walker—constructed their own identity and lives by encompassing the interconnectedness of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Most importantly, this work, and others like it, accomplished all that by breaking all the rules that had been set, thematically, structurally, and politically and didn’t shy away from articulating sexual abuse, sexuality, male-female relationships, and every day life.
Shange was truly ahead of her time.
To honor this work and rich legacy, Tyler Perry wrote, directed and produced the film version of her play in 2010, starring Phylicia Rashad, Kerry Washington, Tessa Thompson, Janet Jackson and others.
In a recent interview, Shange spoke in detail about her latest work, “Wild Beauty,” a bilingual collection of new and beloved poems.
“I wish I hadn’t seen some of the life portrayed here; that the blood and tears were imaginary,” she admitted
“Sometimes the myth and history of our people sustain me, regardless of the sweat, tears, calluses and struggle we have endured.”
The Star Tribune also noted that Shange “born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey, hailed from an accomplished family. Her father, Paul T. Williams, was a surgeon. Her mother, Eloise Owens Williams, was a professor of social work.”
Shange is survived by her daughter, Savannah Shange, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, and granddaughter Harriet Shange Watkins.
Rest in power, Shange. We will never forget your legacy and dedication to Black women and girls.