Ntozake Shange, 'For Colored Girls' Playwright, Dies at 70

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Ntozake Shange

In addition to her Obie Award-winning choreopoem, Shange wrote novels including 'Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo' and poetry collections like 'Nappy Edges.'

Ntozake Shange, the prolific playwright, poet and novelist who wrote the celebrated play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, has died. Shange was 70.

Shange died in her sleep early Saturday morning, according to her family, who announced the death in a tweet on the writer's official Twitter account. 

In addition to her Obie Award-winning choreopoem — a format combining poetry, dance, acting and music —  For Colored Girls, which was adapted into a Tyler Perry film of the same name starring Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad and Kerry Washington in 2010, Shange penned the plays Daddy Says (1989), Spell #7 (1985), From Okra to Greens/A Different Kinda Love Story (1983) and Whitewash (1994).

"So grateful for her vision and voice," Washington wrote Saturday in a tweet that quoted Shange.

Her collections of poetry include Nappy Edges (1978), A Daughter's Geography (1983), Ridin' the Moon in Texas (1987) and The Sweet Breath of Life (2004). She also wrote novels — like Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982) and Betsey Brown (1985) — and children's books, with titles including Ellington Was Not a Street (2003), Daddy Says (2003) and Coretta Scott (2009).

Born Paulette Linda Williams in Trenton, N.J. in 1948, Shange grew up in St. Louis, Miss. and Lawrence Township, N.J. before attending Barnard College in New York City for her bachelor's degree and the University of Southern California for her master's. After teaching in California for three years, Shange rose to fame with For Colored Girls, a group of 20 poems about the resilience of women of color, which ran for seven months off-Broadway and two years on Broadway.

Shange continued to work in the choreopoem format throughout her career, including in the plays Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's original play, and Spell #7.

Throughout her career, Shange won multiple awards for her work, including the Pushcart Prize, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund and Columbia University's Medal of Excellence.

She is survived by her sisters Ifa Bayeza and Bisa Williams, her brother Paul T. Williams, Jr. and daughter Savannah Shange. Memorial information will follow at a later date, the family wrote in a tweet.