I will be honest, since I never heard of Ntozake Shange before until two years after her death. So I want to take the opportunity to make her name well-known (the name she was most famous for, of course).
She was born in October 18, 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey to surgeon Dr. Paul T. Williams and Professor of Social Work, Eloise Owens. Her parents were deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
She eventually graduated from the University of Southern California with a Master’s in American Studies in 1973. She would teach Black and Latin Literature in the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Her new name was Zulu for “she who comes with her own things” and “who walks like a lion.” Considering how she was an outspoken feminist, her new name was meant to signify that she treads like a lion and holds her own.
She became famous when her play For Colored Girls was broadcasted in 1977. Among many works in her bibliography are many plays, poems, and she co-wrote a novel with her sister, Ifa Bayeza, titled Some Sing, Some Cry.
She passed away in October 27, 2018 at the age of 80.
As far as her works, femininity and mental health are major themes. Since Shange attempted suicide after her first failed marriage, it had become a staple in her writing, particularly when it involved women of color. This can definitely explain why she chose her surname, because she would have identified with how the lion is endemic to Africa. It would make sense, since the lion is viewed in West Africa–where the original African-American slaves were taken from–as being associated with strength and power; though she did use Zulu which is a South African language, as though to create a sense of Pan-African uniqueness.
As for Ntozake, she definitely did come with her own literature and made her own contribution to African-American literature. She definitely literally lived up to her name.
Woodrich, Chris. “Ntozake Shange, Reid Lecture, Women Issues Luncheon, Women’s Center.” November 1978. Edited for contrast, and to remove spots and stains. CC BY-SA 3.0. Changes include placing image within another.