Ntozake Shange, Poet & Playwright of “For Colored Girls…,” dies at 70


Voice & Viewpoint Staff Writer

On Saturday, October 27th, renowned playwright, novelist, and poet, Ntozake Shange passed away. She was 70 years old. The famous playwright had been suffering from the effects of two strokes and an undisclosed neurological condition that made speech and writing difficult. Many a black woman or girl remembers her first introduction to Shange’s work, be it from the Tyler Perry’s 2010 screen adaptation of her masterpiece, For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, or her other well received poems or plays, including Spell #7, Three for a Full Moon, or Whitewash.

Twitter was aflame with quotes and condolences at the news of Shange’s passing. She was called the vanguard of her time and was an icon of the 1970’s Black Arts Movement. Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls was only the second Broadway play written by an African American woman. 

Well-Read Black Girl quoted Shange in her 1995 Mother Jones “Back at You” interview on Twitter: “I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think.” Celebrity luminaries like Ava Durvernay and Kerri Washington were among those who tweeted her many famous lines of poetry and plays, including the oft-quoted: 

“Through my tears

I found god in myself

And I loved her fiercely”

Shange was born in 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey to a middle class family. Her given name was Paulette Linda Williams. Her father was an Air Force surgeon and her mother was an educator and psychiatric social worker. She graduated from Barnard College in New York City, graduating cum laude in American Studies and later earned a master’s in the same field at UCLA. At Barnard, Shange suffered a severe bout of depression and several suicide attempts after the break up her first marriage. While at UCLA, Shange changed her name to Ntozake, which in Xhosa means “she who comes with her own things.” Her new last name, Shange, in Zulu means “she who walks like a lion.” It was during this period of her life that she decided, according to her official website, to focus ‘her rage against the limitations society imposes on black women.” Her work consistently speaks to some of the social issues that continue to plague Black culture, American Culture, and Black women and girls, in particular.

Find out more about Ntozake Shange and her life’s work at her official website: officialintozaheshange.com


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