Shange in New York City in 1976, the year For Colored Girls premiered
November 1, 2018 6:33 AM EDT

There’s a moment where words are so limiting. To say Ntozake Shange–who died at 70 on Oct. 27–was a playwright, novelist, poet and activist is limiting. Even to say she was fierce and funny and kind is limiting. She was a trailblazer, a fire starter, a queen.

I met her through her work–specifically for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf–long before I dreamed of meeting her in person, and then many years later we were on a panel together. When someone asked a “stupid” question, she would slay them–wither, poof. I was a kid writer and didn’t understand yet what it was all about, but she assured me that one learns how to handle the praise-sayers and the naysayers. The range of ferocity she had is important to note. Today so much of Hollywood is blossoming for people of color; it ain’t no easy road yet, but it’s a lot easier than it used to be. The kind of trailblazing Ntozake did can be exhausting, but bless her brilliant sister-heart for fighting those battles for us. But again, to merely describe her is ultimately limiting. If you read her work–and read it aloud–you will get her words, and you will get her.

Parks is a playwright and was the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer for drama, for Topdog/Underdog

This appears in the November 12, 2018 issue of TIME.

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