Ntozake Shange, the personification of ‘Black Girl Magic’

Ntozake Shange AP Photo/Evan Agostini

“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.” — Ntozake Shange

Black women everywhere heaved a collective sigh at the passing of award-winning poet, playwright and author Ntozake Shange on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27. Shange, who had just turned 70, died at her assisted living facility in Bowie, MD. She had suffered from multiple strokes in 2004.

“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,” her family posted on her Twitter account.

Born Paulette Williams in Trenton, NJ in 1948, she later changed her name to Ntozake which means “she who comes with her own things” and Shange, which means “she who walks like a lion” in Zulu. Shange was affectionately known as ‘Zake by friends and family. She challenged her instructors and broke the rules to find her voice and give others theirs. Pulitzer Prize-winner LYnn NOttage called her “our warrior poet/dramatist.”

Shange was the voice behind the Obie Award-winning 1975 choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. This, amongst her many works, signaled a movement for Black women, helping us to reclaim our voices, our power, our womanhood. The choreopoem was introduced to a new generation via Tyler Perry’s film adaption For Colored Girls in 2010.


It transcended time, age, location. No doubt we all knew the pain of acknowledging that “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.” We have all experienced a siloed universe feeling alone and disconnected. She personified Black Girl Magic before it was a thing. She helped us find joy and God in ourselves.

Her death is “a major shift in the cosmos,” said Sarah Bellamy, artistic director of Penumbra Theatre, where Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf just concluded an extended run. “Ntozake Shange invited us to marvel at the resiliency and power that women of color harness in order to survive a hostile world. She invited us to practice the ritual of loving ourselves.”

Shange also authored several books, plays and collections of poems including Spell No. 7, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, Liliane, and her most recent, Wild Beauty.

“‘Zake was a woman of extravagance and flourish, and she left quickly without suffering,” said her sister Ifa Bayeza, who was also a writer. “It’s a huge loss for the world. I don’t think there’s a day on the planet when there’s not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister.”


For more information on Ntozake Shange and her works, visit officialntozakeshange.com.