Poet And Playwright Ntozake Shange Dies At 70

News

American poet, Ntozake Shange, best known for her Obie Award-winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, passed away on the morning of Saturday, October 27, 2018. She was 70.

According to a tweet from her family, the feminist and playwright died “peacefully in her sleep.”

“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,” the tweet reads. “Memorial information / details will follow at a later date.”

In 2011, Shange was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), a neurological disorder characterized by progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the legs and arms. No word on whether her death was related to complications from the disease.

VIBE had the honor of interviewing Shange in December 2017 to talk about her latest book, Wild Beauty, a collection of new and previously written poems. It marked her return to the world of literature after being absent for more than ten years.

“I hadn’t published a book of poetry in over a decade because I’ve been very ill,” she admitted. “As I got better and started to write, I said, ‘Wow, even as an old woman I could have a selected book of poems.’ I had some new poems that I’d written within the past 18 months that stood out on their own, and I decided to put them in there.”

Trenton, New Jersey native Shange, born Paulette Williams, graduated from Columbia University’s Barnard College and USC and was the eldest of four siblings. Shange’s father worked as a surgeon, while her mother earned income as a social worker and educator. When Shange was 8 years old, her family relocated to St. Louis, a city that would become the center of her 1985 novel, Betsey Brown. The Williams family was considered well-off, even having domestic help around the house. However, having money has never been an immunity to prejudice. Despite the family’s solid financial footing, the Shange’s still lived in a segregated St. Louis neighborhood. As one of a handful of black kids at an all-white school, Shange, during the days of Brown vs. Board of Education, was bullied by her classmates and her intellect was discredited by her teachers.

When Shange was thirteen, the family moved back to New Jersey. Writing entered her life during her days at Trenton High School. However, Shange’s writing didn’t sit well with her teachers. They discouraged her from chasing her dreams as a writer, but Shange wasn’t discouraged. The then-young creative, after becoming acquainted with the writing of Malcolm X, would write obituaries for the former Nation of Islam member. Like any artist, Shange put her life into her work.

Along with Tyler Perry’s 2010 film adaptation of For Colored Girls—starring Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad and Kerry Washington—, the novelist’s other notable works include poems like Nappy Edges (1978), A Daughter’s Geography (1983), Ridin’ the Moon in Texas (1987) and The Sweet Breath of Life (2004), novels like Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982) and Betsey Brown (1985), and a handful of plays like Daddy Says (1989), Spell #7 (1985), From Okra to Greens/A Different Kinda Love Story (1983) and Whitewash (1994).

Shange is survived by her daughter Savannah Shange, sisters Ifa Bayeza and Bisa Williams, and brother Paul T. Williams.

READ MORE: Allow Ntozake Shange To Re-Introduce Herself With New Book Of Poetry, ‘Wild Beauty’