The dramatist, poet and author Ntozake Shange, whose most acclaimed play is the Tony Award-nominated play 1975 "For girls of color who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is Enuf", died on Saturday, according to his daughter. She was 70 years old.
"For Colored Girls" by Shange describes the racism, sexism, violence and rape that seven black women experienced. It has been influential for generations of progressive thinkers, from the architect #MeToo Tarana Burke to the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. After learning of Shange's death, Nottage called her "our poet and warrior dramatist."
Savannah Shange, an anthropology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said Saturday her mother died while sleeping in an assisted living facility in Bowie, Maryland. She had suffered a series of strokes in 2004.
"She spoke for, and in fact embodied, the ongoing struggle of black women and girls to live with dignity and respect in the context of systemic racism, sexism and oppression," said Savannah Shange.
"For Colored Girls" is an interwoven series of poetic monologues set in music (Shange coined the form of a "coreopéema" for her) by African-American women, each identified only by the color she uses.
Shange used idiosyncratic punctuation and non-standard spelling in her work, defying conventions. One of his characters shouts: "I will raise my voice / & I will scream and I will scream / and I will break things and I will run the engine / and I will tell all the secrets of the year to my face".
He had about 750 performances on Broadway, only the second of an African-American woman after "A Raisin in the Sun," and it became a Tyler Perry movie starring Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Janet Jackson. .
Born as Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey, she graduated from Barnard College and earned a master's degree from the University of Southern California. His father, Dr. Paul T. Williams, was a surgeon. His mother, Eloise Owens Williams, was a social work teacher. Later she assumed 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, with Shange, after 27 years, acting as one of the women. The critic of the New York Times called it "extraordinary and wonderful" and "something very humble but inspiring for a white man to experience." She won the Shange an Obie Award and won a second prize in 1981 for her adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" at the Public Theater.
The other 15 works by Shange include "A Photograph: A Study of Cruelty" (1977), "Boogie Woogie Landscapes" (1977), "Spell No. 7" (1979) and "Black and White Two Dimensional Planes" (1979) .
His list of published works includes 19 collections of poetry, six novels, five children's books and three collections of essays. Some of his novels are "Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo" (1982) and "Some Sing, Some Cry", with his sister, Ifa Bayeza. His poetry collections include "Vivo en la música" (1994) and "The sweet breath of life: a poetic narrative of the Afro-American family" (2004). She appeared in an episode of "Transparent" and helped narrate the 2002 documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown."
He worked with black theater companies such as the Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco; the New Freedom Theater in Philadelphia; Crossroads Theater Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey; St. Louis Black Rep; Penumbra Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota; and the Ensemble Theater in Houston, Texas.
Shange taught at Brown University, Rice University, Villanova University, DePaul University, Prairie View University and Sonoma State University. He also gave lectures at Yale, Howard, New York University, among others.
In addition to her daughter and sister, Shange is survived by her sister Bisa Williams, her brother Paul T. Williams, Jr. and a granddaughter, Harriet Shange-Watkins.
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