Obie Award-winning playwright: Ntozake Shange dies at 70

Ntozake Shange, Reid Lecture, Women Issues Luncheon, Women's Center, November 1978.

Pioneering poet and playwright Ntozake Shange died on the morning of Oct. 27 at an assisted living facility in Bowie, Md.

She was best known for her much celebrated Obie Award-winning play, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.”

Shange, who turned 70 on Oct. 18, had suffered multiple strokes over the past few years. She died in her sleep. 

“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,” Shange once said. 

   

 “Zake was a woman of extravagance and flourish, and she left quickly without suffering,” said her sister Ifa Bayeza, who was also a writer. “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.”

Her death is a “a major shift in the cosmos,” said Sarah Bellamy, associate artistic director for Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul.  “Ntozake Shange invited us to marvel at the resiliency and power that women of color harness in order to survive a hostile world. She invited us to practice the ritual of loving ourselves.”

Shange was also the author of the novels “Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo,” “Liliane,” and “Betsey Brown,” a novel about a Black girl who runs away from home. Shange was also awarded a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship an in April 2016.

Her most celebrated and famous work was the 20-part poem, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” depicting the lives of women of color. The poem was made into the stage play and a published book in 1977. In 2010, Tyler Perry made her work into a film entitled a “For Colored Girls.” 

The recent book by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, Minyon Moore, and Veronica Chambers, entitled “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics,” was a play on the famous work by Shange.  

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and writer for NNPA as well as a political analyst and communications strategist. She appears regularly on Roland Martin Unfiltered and can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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