In celebration of Black History Month, here’s a thread dedicated to playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Info via Wikipedia.
Hansberry was the first black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Her best known work, the play A Raisin in the Sun, highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago.
She attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she immediately became politically active and integrated a dormitory. Hansberry’s classmate Bob Teague remembered her as “…the only girl I knew who could whip together a fresh picket sign with her own hands, at a moment’s notice, for any cause or occasion”.
In 1951, she joined the staff of the black journal Freedom Newspaper. She worked on not only the US civil rights movement, but also global struggles against colonialism and imperialism. Hansberry wrote in support of the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, criticizing the mainstream press for its biased coverage.
On June 20, 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish publisher, songwriter and political activist. On the night before their wedding in 1953, Nemiroff and Hansberry protested the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in New York City.
It is widely believed that Hansberry was a closeted lesbian, a theory supported by her secret writings in letters and personal notebooks. She was an activist for gay rights and wrote about feminism and homophobia, joining the Daughters of Bilitis and contributing two letters to their magazine, The Ladder, in 1957 under her initials “LHN.” She separated from her husband at this time, but they continued to work together.
Opening on March 11, 1959, A Raisin in the Sun became the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. Over the next two years, Raisin was translated into 35 languages and was being performed all over the world.
Sadly, Hansberry died at age 34 of pancreatic cancer. Nina Simone first released a song about Hansberry in 1969 called “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” The title of the song refers to the title of Hansberry’s autobiography, which Hansberry first coined when speaking to the winners of a creative writing conference on May 1, 1964, “though it is a thrilling and marvellous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic — to be young, gifted and black.” Simone wrote the song with the poet Weldon Irvine and told him that she wanted lyrics that would “make black children all over the world feel good about themselves forever.”
Her tombstone is pretty kick-ass: