Trenton-born American poet, performance artist, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange died on October 28 at age 70. Shange gained national prominence with her 1975 stage work “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” Combining poetry, dance, music, spoken word, and drama, the pioneering work was recognized for giving voice to women of color.
Born Paulette Williams in 1948, she was the daughter of Dr. Paul Williams, a surgeon, and Eloise, a college professor and psychiatric social worker. Both were involved with cultural and social activities and hosted such noted cultural leaders as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and W.E.B. DuBois as house guests.
She graduated from Trenton Central High School in 1966 and received degrees from Barnard College and the University of Southern California. After a brief unhappy marriage in 1971, the writer adopted an African name that translates to “She who brings her own things” and “Walks like a lion.”
The author of 12 volumes of poetry, five novels, and 16 stage works, Shange also taught at several universities, including Brown and Villanova. In 1990 she collaborated with McCarter Theater’s Emily Mann on a stage production of her novel “Betsey Brown.”
In 2004 Shange suffered a series of strokes. Despite affected mobility and speech, she continued to write. In 2016 she was a guest at the Trenton Book Fair and in 2017 she appeared at the Arts Council in Princeton where she read from her latest book, “Wild Beauty.”