On Saturday (October 27), Ntozake Shange’s family confirmed the groundbreaking writer’s death.
To our extended family and friends, it is with sorrow that we inform you that our loved one, Ntozake Shange, passed away peacefully in her sleep in the early morning of October 27, 2018. Memorial information / details will follow at a later date.
The family of Ntozake Shange
— Ntozake Shange (@NtozakeShange1) October 27, 2018
Shange’s sister, Ifa Bayeza, told The New York Times that her health had been poor following two strokes more than a decade ago. She was 70 years old.
Per The Associated Press, Shange was born Paulette Williams, the child of a social work scholar and physician in Trenton, New Jersey. Her chosen name means “she who comes with her own things” and “she who walks like a lion” in Zulu.
Shange earned national acclaim with “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” CNN reports that Shange coined the term “choreopoem” to describe the work’s trailblazing mix of theater, music, poetry, dance and other literary and artistic disciplines. “For Colored Girls,” like much of Shange’s canon, centers Black women and their experiences with sexual violence, reproductive crises, suicidal despondency, overcoming trauma and other hallmarks of their marginalization in United States society. Audiences experienced the work as a Broadway production in 1976—only the second one from a Black woman after “A Raisin in the Sun”—and a 1982 television film and a 2010 narrative movie.
Shange channeled her passion for uplifting Black women’s inner lives into her work and her actions off the page. The AP notes that she frequently worked with Black theater companies to stage her works.
“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,” she told journalist Rebecca Carroll for a 1995 Mother Jones interview. “I want to say, ‘Here, look where you can live, look what you can think.’ I concentrate on giving this to young people because they are the treasurers of Black culture.”
The news of Shange’s death prompted tributes from social media users, many of them Black women in arts and activism spaces, who honored Shange’s legacy of uplifting their lives and concerns in her work.
The passing of our beloved @NtozakeShange is a watershed moments in our lives. Our hearts go out to her family as we take a knee to honor her life, her work, her magnificent spirit. https://t.co/tdtoHxAISv
— JulieDash (@JulieDash) October 27, 2018
Through my tears
I found god in myself
and I loved her fiercely
💔 So grateful for her vision and voice. https://t.co/pjlWtxJSQl
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) October 27, 2018
light, peace, and progress to the Spirit of Ntozake Shange. Thank you for singing our song, for singing a Black girls’s song. Rest. ✨
— Yaba Blay (@fiyawata) October 27, 2018
— Lynn Nottage (@Lynnbrooklyn) October 27, 2018
When I first found the words of Ntozake Shange, it was revelatory, it gave me a way forward and a better sense of myself. So thankful for the words that she gave us all. Rest well.
— Blair LM Kelley (@profblmkelley) October 27, 2018
Heartbroken at the loss of Ntozake Shange but I will always be inspired and buoyed by her profound art with words, her love for all walks of Black womanhood and her outspoken brilliance.
“i found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely”
― Ntozake Shange pic.twitter.com/K1oQzs5Ae7
— Janelle Harris (@thegirlcanwrite) October 27, 2018
This just brought me to my knees. Ntozake Shange ushered generations of Black women into liberation. She deserves this rest. https://t.co/FdnK4WRoZq
— Evette Dionne 🤷🏾♀️ (@freeblackgirl) October 27, 2018
— Black Youth Project (@BlackYouthProj) October 27, 2018