Playwright, poet and author Ntozake Shange, whose most acclaimed theatre piece is the 1975 Tony Award-nominated play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, died Saturday, according to her daughter. She was 70.
Shange's For Colored Girls describes the racism, sexism, violence and rape experienced by seven black women. It has been influential to generations of progressive thinkers, from #MeToo architect Tarana Burke to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. After learning of Shange's death, Nottage called her "our warrior poet/dramatist."
Savannah Shange on Saturday night did not reveal a cause of her mother's death.
For Colored Girls is an interwoven series of poetic monologues set to music — Shange coined the form a "choreopoem" — by African-American women, each identified only by a colour that she wears.
Shange used idiosyncratic punctuation and non-standard spellings in her work, challenging conventions. One of her characters shouts, "i will raise my voice / & scream & holler / & break things & race the engine / & tell all yr secrets bout yrself to yr face."
It played some 750 performances on Broadway — only the second play by an African-American woman after A Raisin in the Sun — and was turned into a feature film by Tyler Perry starring Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Janet Jackson.
Born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey, she went on to graduate from Barnard College and got a master's from the University of Southern California. She would also assume a new Zulu name: Ntozake means "She who comes with her own things" and Shange means "She who walks like a lion."
For Colored Girls opened at the Public Theater in downtown Manhattan in June 1976, with Shange, then 27, performing as one of the women. The New York Times reviewer called it "extraordinary and wonderful" and "a very humbling but inspiring thing for a white man to experience."
Shange's other plays include A Photograph: A Study of Cruelty (1977), Boogie Woogie Landscapes (1977), Spell No. 7 (1979) and Black and White Two Dimensional Planes (1979).
Her list of published works is also comprised of Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo (1982) and Some Sing, Some Cry with her sister, Ifa Bayeza, as well as collections of poetry entitled I Live in Music (1994) and The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family (2004). She appeared in an episode of Transparent and helped narrate the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
In addition to her daughter and sister, Shange is survived by a granddaughter, Harriet Shange Watkins.