American playwright and poet Ntozake Shange.
New York Times Co/Getty Images
American playwright and poet Ntozake Shange.
(CNN) —  

As a beautiful writer once said, and it seems all the more worth repeating now: “I’m a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act, and how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives.”

In the midst of a wrenching week, when there has been so much to mourn, we also feel the loss of the poet, novelist, and pioneering voice who wrote those words about the power of language. Ntozake Shange died Saturday in Maryland at the age of 70, according to the Star Tribune. News of her death was also provided by her family on Twitter.

Shange presented her groundbreaking choreopoem, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” in 1975; it became an off-Broadway play in 1976 and Tyler Perry wrote, produced and directed a film adaptation in 2010. Shange coined “choreopoem” to describe her work in “For Colored Girls,” a dramatic expression blending poetry, dance, music and song.

Perhaps her most famous lines were these:

i found god in myself

and i loved her

i loved her fiercely

To say that her words were revolutionary is insufficient. To say that “For Colored Girls,” with its searing portrayals of life, death, rape, abortion and struggle, changed people’s lives is undeniably true. Whether they encountered Shange’s words on stage, on screen, in the classroom or by other means, generations of women of color – and others who felt marginalized, traumatized, or held locked in place by an unforgiving world – found themselves in Shange’s choreopoem, including these lines taken from the poem “dark phrases,” told in multiple voices:

sing a black girl’s song

bring her out

to know herself

to know you

but sing her rhythms

carin/struggle/hard times

sing her song of life

she’s been dead so long

closed in silence so long

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice

her infinite beauty

she’s half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

sing her sighs

sing the song of her possibilities

sing a righteous gospel

let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly.

lady in brown

i’m outside chicago

lady in yellow

i’m outside detroit

lady in purple

i’m outside houston

lady in red

i’m outside baltimore

lady in green

i’m outside san francisco

lady in blue

i’m outside manhattan

lady in orange

i’m outside st. louis

lady in brown

& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide

but moved to the ends of their own rainbows.

Among those who remembered Shange on Twitter Saturday are women and men whose own voices and work have changed the lives of others.

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