Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
Lorraine Hansberry was a significant and prolific African American writer born in Chicago on May 19, 1930, to Carl and Nannie Hansberry. Her father Carl Hansberry became imfamous for buying a house in an all-white Chicago neighborhood that restricted African Americans from living within its confines. Local white residents and officials exhibited extreme opposition and hostility toward the family to force them to move out of their home. Lorraine, who was only in elementary school at the time, wrote about her family’s ordeal in the book To be Young, Gifted and Black, where Lorraine describes “living in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house” and how she was “spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.” Lorraine’s experience growing up in a family that was fighting against racist restrictions for African Americans had a profound influence on her career as a writer.
After Lorraine Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, she left in 1950 to pursue a writing career, working with W.E.B DuBois, and on the staff of Paul Robeson’s Freedom newspaper. Lorraine subsequently wrote the groundbreaking and successful play, A Raisin in the Sun, which was released on Broadway in 1959. It was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway, and the first to be directed by an African American.
The original cast included some of the most legendary African American actors to grace the stage and film, including Oscar winner Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Louis Gossett Jr. In 1961, a Hollywood film version of the play was released by Columbia Pictures including the same cast, and the screenplay was also written by Lorraine Hansberry. Actors Sidney Poitier and Claudia MacNeil were nominated for Golden Globe Awards for their roles in the film, and A Raisin in the Sun was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.
Several versions of the play have been performed over the years, one very successful musical version released in 1973 called Raisin, was nominated for nine Tony Awards, and received the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical; its book was written by Hansberry's former husband, Robert Nemiroff.
In Addition, two TV film adaptations were made, one in 1989, starring Danny Glover and Esther Rolle, and another released in 2008, which was produced by Sean “P-Ditty” Combs with an all-star cast including, Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan, John Stamos, and Sean Combs.
Beyond A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry also wrote The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window which ran for 110 performances on Broadway, and Lorraine’s friend, the singer Nina Simone, used the title of her unfinished play to write the inspiring song, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" with Weldon Irvine.
Lorraine Hansberry was gifted with the ability to capture the pain of injustice and discrimination in her writings, and this talent has left a monumental and profound legacy, not just for African Americans, but for the world. Sadly, Lorraine Hansberry died from cancer in 1965, at the young age of 34.
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