Black Women Honor Ntozake Shange’s Feminist Legacy

By Sameer Rao Oct 29, 2018

On Saturday (October 27), Ntozake Shange‘s family confirmed the groundbreaking writer’s death. 


rntShange’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.