NEW YORK — Playwright, poet and author Ntozake Shange, whose most acclaimed theater piece is the 1975 Tony Award-nominated play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” died Saturday, according to her daughter. She was 70.

Shange’s “For Colored Girls” describes the racism, sexism, violence and rape experienced by seven black women. It has been influential to generations of progressive thinkers, from #MeToo architect Tarana Burke to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. After learning of Shange’s death, Nottage called her “our warrior poet/dramatist.”

Savannah Shange, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said Saturday that her mother died in her sleep at an assisted living facility in Bowie, Maryland. She had suffered a series of strokes in 2004.

“She spoke for, and in fact embodied, the ongoing struggle of black women and girls to live with dignity and respect in the context of systemic racism, sexism and oppression,” Savannah Shange said.

The family also posted a statement on Facebook late Saturday.

“For Colored Girls” is an interwoven series of poetic monologues set to music — Shange coined the form a “choreopoem” for it — by African-American women, each identified only by a color that she wears.

Shange used idiosyncratic punctuation and nonstandard spellings in her work, challenging conventions. One of her characters shouts, “i will raise my voice / & scream & holler / & break things & race the engine / & tell all yr secrets bout yrself to yr face.”

It played some 750 performances on Broadway — only the second play by an African-American woman to do so after “A Raisin in the Sun” — and was turned into a feature film by Tyler Perry starring Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Janet Jackson.

“Colored Girls” has been performed numerous times on Chicago’s stages, with past productions mounted at Steppenwolf, Pegasus Players and the Chicago Cultural Center. It’s slated to run next season (March 14-April 14, 2019) at Court Theatre. The show most recently played the Chicago area in March at Governors State University’s Center for Performing Arts.

“The entire Court Theatre Family mourns the loss of playwright, poet, and author Ntozake Shange. We honor her towering body of classic texts that resonate so powerfully today,” said Court’s artistic director Charles Newell.

Via email, Seret Scott, the director of Court’s upcoming production of the work. said: “Traditionally there are 7 women in ‘Colored Girls,’ but I asked Zake (Ntozake’s nickname) if I could add an 8th woman to highlight the extraordinary musical and dance expression of Chicago. Zake said ‘Yes, she’d be the rainbow.’”

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 17: Poet Ntozake Shange speaks on stage during I Found God In Myself: The 40th Anniversary Of "For Colored Girls" VIP Opening Reception at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on September 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Poet Ntozake Shange speaks on stage during I Found God In Myself: The 40th Anniversary Of “For Colored Girls” VIP Opening Reception at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on September 17, 2014 in New York City. | Rob Kim/Getty Images

Born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey, she went on to graduate from Barnard College and got a master’s degree from the University of Southern California. Her father, Dr. Paul T. Williams, was a surgeon. Her mother, Eloise Owens Williams, was a professor of social work. She later assumed a new Zulu name: Ntozake means “She who comes with her own things” and Shange means “She who walks like a lion.”

“For Colored Girls” opened at the Public Theater in downtown Manhattan, with Shange, then 27, performing as one of the women. The New York Times reviewer called it “extraordinary and wonderful” and “a very humbling but inspiring thing for a white man to experience.” It earned Shange an Obie Award and she won a second such award in 1981 for her adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” at the Public Theater.

Shange’s other 15 plays include “A Photograph: A Study of Cruelty” (1977), “Boogie Woogie Landscapes” (1977), “Spell No. 7” (1979), “Black and White Two Dimensional Planes” (1979) and “Nomathemba,” the latter staged by Steppenwolf Theatre in the 1990s.

“Hearing about her passing brought about a flood of memories. Ntozake was a rare talent,” said Steppenwolf ensemble member Eric Simonson, who directed the 1995 production of “Nomathemba” (the Zulu word for “hope.”) “She had an insight and instinct that was so direct and honest that it was shocking. I felt like she could see right through me. When we were working on ‘Nomathemba,’ I would ask for a new scene, and she would take out a pen and paper and write it on the spot. She’d show it to me, and it would be this perfect little piece a drama, music and poetry. I’d never seen anything like it and I doubt I will ever again.”

Shange’s list of published works includes 19 poetry collections, six novels, five children’s books and three collections of essays. Some of her novels are “Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo” (1982) and “Some Sing, Some Cry,” with her sister, Ifa Bayeza. Her poetry collections include “I Live in Music” (1994) and “The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family” (2004). She appeared in an episode of “Transparent” and helped narrate the 2002 documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”

FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2010 file photo, actress Janet Jackson, left, and author Ntozake Shange attend a special screening of "For Colored Girls" at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York. Playwright, poet and author Ntozake Shange, whose most acclaimed theater piece is the 1975 Tony Award-nominated play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf," has died Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, according to her daughter, Savannah Sange. She was 70.(AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)

In this Oct. 25, 2010 file photo, actress Janet Jackson (left) and author/playwright Ntozake Shange attend a special screening of “For Colored Girls” at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York. | AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File

She worked with such black theater companies as the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco; the New Freedom Theater in Philadelphia; Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey; St. Louis Black Rep; Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota; and The Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas.

Shange taught at Brown University, Rice University, Villanova University, DePaul University, Prairie View University and Sonoma State University. She also lectured at Yale, Howard, New York University, among others.

In addition to her daughter and sister, Shange is survived by sister Bisa Williams, brother Paul T. Williams, Jr. and a granddaughter, Harriet Shange-Watkins.

MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer
Contributing: Sun-Times staff reporter Miriam Di Nunzio