'For Colored Girls' Playwright Ntozake Shange Dead at 70

Ntozake Shange, author of the1976 work “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf” has died at the age of 70.

via Page Six:

Shange — born Paulette Williams in Trenton — was a prolific author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry, children’s books, essays, novels and plays. She was also driving force in the burgeoning Black Arts Movement.She influenced countless African-American writers and was a dominating figure of the 1970s American feminist upswell.

“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 famously said. “I can only change how they live, not how they think.”

At the onset of her literary career, Shange challenged the notion of art itself. “For Colored Girls,” a set of poetic monologues accompanied by music and dance — choreopoem as she dubbed it — took Broadway by storm in 1976 and was a Best Play nominee at the 1977 Tony Awards, losing to Michael Cristofer’s “The Shadow Box,” which was that year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

“A play has a form that has to be finished. A performance piece has an organic form, but it can even flow,” Shange said of her compositions. “And there doesn’t have to be some ultimate climax in it. And there does not have to be a denouement.”

“For Colored Girls,” which was adapted for PBS in 1982, was made into a feature film in 2010. That production, directed by Tyler Perry, starred the all-star cast of Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine, Macy Gray and Kerry Washington.

Shange’s adaptation of German modernist Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” won an Obie Award in 1980.

Her 1982 novel “Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo,” lauded for its empowering message of community and sisterhood in the American South, introduced readers to the Geechee culture of the coastal islands with its unique Creole language and generational-based traditions.

Shange credited noted black writer LeRoi Jones and Ismael Reed for her signature use of slashes and lower-case letters, claiming they “reflect that language as I hear it.”

Shange had been in poor health in recent years, having suffered multiple strokes. She died peacefully in her sleep in a Maryland assistant living facility, reported The Star Tribune.

“Zake was a woman of extravagance and flourish, and she left quickly without suffering,” said her sister Ifa Bayeza. “It’s a huge loss for the world.”


Share This Post