~~May 19, 2014~~
Lorraine Hansberry, author of “A Raisin in the Sun”—she was born today in 1930! When it opened in 1959, the play was the first written by an African-American woman to make it to Broadway.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965) was an American playwright and writer. Hansberry inspired Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black“.
She was the first black woman to write 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.
Hansberry’s family had struggled against segregation, challenging a restrictive covenant and eventually provoking the Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee. The title of the play was taken from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
After she moved to New York City, Hansberry worked at the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom, where she dealt with intellectuals such as Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois. Much of her work during this time concerned the African struggle for liberation and their impact on the world.
Hansberry has been identified as a lesbian, and sexual freedom is an important topic in several of her works. She died of cancer at the age of 34.
Lorraine Hansberry was the youngest of four children born to Carl Augustus Hansberry, a successful real-estate broker, and Nannie Louise (neé Perry) a school teacher. In 1938, her father bought a house in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago, violating a restrictive covenant and incurring the wrath of their white neighbors. The latter’s legal efforts to force the Hansberry family out culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hansberry v. Lee. The restrictive covenant was ruled contestable, though not inherently invalid. Carl Hansberry was also a supporter of the Urban League and NAACP in Chicago. Both Hansberrys were active in the Chicago Republican Party. Carl died in 1946, when Lorraine was fifteen years old; “American racism helped kill him,” she later said.
The Hansberrys were routinely visited by prominent Black intellectuals, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson. Carl Hansberry’s brother, William Leo Hansberry, founded the African Civilization section of the history department at Howard University. Lorraine was taught: ‘‘Above all, there were two things which were never to be betrayed: the family and the race.’’
Lorraine Hansberry has many notable relatives including director and playwright Shauneille Perry, whose eldest child is named after her. Her grand-niece is actress Taye Hansberry. Her cousin is the flautist, percussionist, and composer Aldridge Hansberry.
Hansberry became the godmother to Nina Simone‘s daughter Lisa — now Simone.
~~Marriage and sexuality~~
On June 20, 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish publisher, songwriter and political activist. Hansberry and Nemiroff moved to Greenwich Village, the setting of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Success of the song “Cindy, Oh Cindy“, co-authored by Nemiroff, enabled Hansberry to start writing full-time.
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.
A Raisin in the Sun was written at this time and completed in 1957.
On her religious views, Hansberry was an atheist.
According to historian Fanon Che Wilkins, “Hansberry believed that gaining civil rights in the United States and obtaining independence in colonial Africa were two sides of the same coin that presented similar challenges for Africans on both sides of the Atlantic.” In response to the independence of Ghana, led by Kwame Nkrumah, Hansberry wrote: “The promise of the future of Ghana is that of all the colored peoples of the world; it is the promise of freedom.”
Regarding tactics, Hansberry said Blacks “must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent. They must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps — and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities.”
In a Town Hall debate on June 15, 1964, Hansberry criticized white liberals who couldn’t accept civil disobedience, expressing a need “to encourage the white liberal to stop being a liberal and become an American radical.” At the same time, she said, “some of the first people who have died so far in this struggle have been white men.”
Hansberry was a critic of existentialism, which she considered too distant from the world’s economic and geopolitical realities. Along these lines, she wrote a critical review of Richard Wright’s The Outsider and went on to style her final play Les Blancs as a foil to Jean Genet’s absurdist Les Nègres. However, Hansberry admired Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.
In 1959, Hansberry commented that women who are “twice oppressed” may become “twice militant”. She held out some hope for male allies of women, writing in an unpublished essay: “If by some miracle women should not ever utter a single protest against their condition there would still exist among men those who could not endure in peace until her liberation had been achieved.”
Hansberry was appalled by the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which took place while she was in high school, and expressed desire for a future in which: “Nobody fights. We get rid of all the little bombs — and the big bombs.” She did believe in the right of people to defend themselves with force against their oppressors.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation began surveillance of Hansberry when she prepared the Montevideo peace conference. The Washington, D.C. office searched her passport files “in an effort to obtain all available background material on the subject, any derogatory information contained therein, and a photograph and complete description,” while officers in Milwaukee and Chicago examined her life history.
Later, an FBI reviewer of Raisin in the Sun highlighted its Pan-Africanist themes as dangerous.
After a battle with pancreatic cancer she died on January 12, 1965, aged 34. James Baldwin believed “it is not at all farfetched to suspect that what she saw contributed to the strain which killed her, for the effort to which Lorraine was dedicated is more than enough to kill a man.”
Hansberry’s funeral was held in Harlem on January 15, 1965. Paul Robeson and SNCC organizer James Forman gave eulogies. The presiding minister, Eugene Callender, recited messages from Baldwin and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. which read: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.”
She is buried at Asbury United Methodist Church Cemetery in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.
Raisin, a musical based on A Raisin in the Sun, opened in New York in 1973, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, with the book by Nemiroff, music by Judd Woldin, and lyrics by Robert Britten. A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004 and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Play. The cast included Sean Combs (“P Diddy”) as Walter Lee Younger Jr., Phylicia Rashad (Tony Award-winner for Best Actress) and Audra McDonald (Tony Award-winner for Best Featured Actress). It was produced for television in 2008 with the same cast, garnering two NAACP Image Awards.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Hansberry as one of his 100 Greatest African Americans.
The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre of San Francisco, which specializes in original stagings and revivals of African-American theatre, is named in her honor. Singer and pianist Nina Simone, who was a close friend of Hansberry, used the title of her unfinished play to write a civil rights-themed song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” together with Weldon Irvine. The single reached the top 10 of the R&B charts. A studio recording by Simone was released as a single and the first live recording on October 26, 1969, was captured on Black Gold (1970).
Lincoln University‘s first-year female dormitory is named Lorraine Hansberry Hall. There is a school in the Bronx called Lorraine Hansberry Academy, and an elementary school in St. Albans, Queens, New York, named after Hansberry as well.
On the eightieth anniversary of Hansberry’s birth, Adjoa Andoh presented a BBC Radio 4 programme entitled “Young, Gifted and Black” in tribute to her life.
In 2013, Lorraine Hansberry was posthumously inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
A Raisin in the Sun, screenplay (1961)
“On Summer” (essay) (1960)
The Drinking Gourd (1960)
What Use Are Flowers? (written c. 1962)
The Arrival of Mr. Todog – parody of Waiting for Godot
The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (1964)
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1965)
To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (1969)
Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays / by Lorraine Hansberry. Edited by Robert Nemiroff (1994)
Toussaint. This fragment from a work in progress, unfinished at the time of Hansberry’s untimely death, deals with a Haitian plantation owner and his wife whose lives are soon to change drastically as a result of the revolution of Toussaint L’Ouverture. (From the Samuel French, Inc. catalogue of plays.)
~~Lorraine Hansberry: Mini – DOCUMENTARY~~
~~Uploaded on Jan 10, 2011~~
Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930 — January 12, 1965) was an African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays. Her best known work, A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family’s legal battle against racially segregated housing laws in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago during her childhood.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin — Madison, but found college uninspiring and left in 1950 to pursue her career as a writer in New York City, where she attended The New School. She worked on the staff of the black newspaper Freedom under the auspices of Paul Robeson, and worked with W. E. B. DuBois, whose office was in the same building. A Raisin in the Sun was written at this time, and was a huge success. It was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.
At 29 years, she became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. While many of her other writings were published in her lifetime – essays, articles, and the text for the SNCC book The Movement, the only other play given a contemporary production was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.
We ALL are ONE!!
~~To Be Young, Gifted And Black – Nina Simone – Live – 1986~~
~~Uploaded on Mar 20, 2010~~
The Video “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” by Nina Simone was recorded in front of the liveconcert at 21 December 1986 in Zürich by ISIS VOICE.
All Rights Reserved © Produced by ISIS VOICE Bern – Switzerland A listen to the magic of “ISIS VOICE” production © Dr. Nina Simone & ISIS VOICE, Suzanne E. Baumann
Will never be forgotten!