"A Raisin in the Sun" is a 1959 play by Lorraine Hansberry. The title comes from a poem called "Harlem" by Langston Hughes. It was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and the first play to be produced with a black director. It was also the first play that began seeing a large number of black audience members.The play has a cast that is primarily … [Read more...]
Lorraine Hansberry was born May 19th, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. The youngest of four children, Hansberry was the child of a real-estate broker and a driving school teacher.
As a black person in 1938, Hansberry's father was so successful at this work that he bought a house in a white neighborhood in the Washington Park Division in Chicago. This incurred the wrath of the white people of the neighborhood, who were threatened by a black family moving in. The fight got so heated that it eventually became a court case that went all the way to the U.S Supreme Court. Hansberry's father died when she was only 15, and she later asserted that "American racism helped kill him."
Growing up, Hansberry's house was regularly visited by prominent black intellectuals like W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson. Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During her time there she became very politically active and regularly protested against injustices, managing to integrate an existing dormitory.
In 1948, she worked on the presidential campaign of Henry A. Wallace and the next year she spent the summer in Mexico at the University of Guadalajara studying art. In 1950, she moved to New York and began attending The New School, later moving to Harlem. Still heavily involved in activism, she fought against evictions of African-American's by the wealthy white landowners.
The next year, she began writing for the black newspaper Freedom, traveling all over the country to cover civil rights cases in court as well as struggles with African colonialism. She was particularly interested in the rights of black women in America and other countries. In 1952, she attended a peace conference in Uruguay.
In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish political activist, and publisher and the two moved to Greenwich Village. She was an activist for gay rights and may have been a closeted lesbian, herself if some of her secret writings and journals are to be believed. In 1957, she began writing her most well-known work, 'A Raisin in the Sun', and later brought it to Broadway, where she became the first black woman to ever produce a play on the stage.
At only 29, she was still very young and became the youngest American playwright to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play. "Raisin" became a huge success and was played all over the world.
In 1960, she was commissioned by the TV channel NBC to write a program about slavery, and although her submission was called "superb," it was ultimately rejected. Throughout the early 1960's, Hansberry attempted to direct a Broadway musical called "Kicks and Co" which ultimately never made it to production. In 1963, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent two unsuccessful operations to remove cancer.
The next year, Hansberry divorced her husband although the couple continued to work together amicably. On January 12th, at the age of only 34, Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer. Her funeral was held in Harlem several days later and attended by, among others, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. She was buried at Asbury United Methodist Church Cemetery in New York.