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Lorraine Vivian Hansberry

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (1930-1965) was an important American writer and a major
figure on Broadway. Although her reputation grew with the posthumous publication of a
range of works, she remained best known for the play and movie A Raisin in the Sun.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was
prominent in Chicago's African American business and political community. He owned
real estate, generously supported African American causes, and ran for Congress as a
Republican; her mother taught school and also was active in politics. The Hansberry
home, where Lorraine was the youngest of four children, was often visited by famous
African Americans.
It was during her years in New York, living in Greenwich Village, that Hansberry became
intimately involved with a number of the liberal causes of the period. In 1952 she
attended the Intercontinental Peace Congress in Montevideo, Uruguay, as a substitute for
Paul Robeson, who could not get a passport from the U.S. State Department. At the
congress she met politically astute feminists from all over the world.
A Raisin in the Sun was finished in 1957 and opened on March 11, 1959, at the Ethel
Barrymore Theater. It was the first play to be produced on Broadway written and directed
by an African American and to have an all-black cast. The play had a long run and was
made into a movie with a script by Hansberry and with Poitier repeating his stage role.
Later it was turned into a Broadway musical, Raisin.
Although Hansberry herself insisted that her play was essentially about an African
American family in a particular time and place, some critics--of both races--suggested
that it simply "happened" to be about African Americans.
Hansberry's next play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, opened and closed in 1965.
Some critics felt that this play was an advance in subtlety and complexity over A Raisin
in the Sun. It recorded some of the conflicts and paradoxes suffered by intellectuals in
confronting the real world. One character, for example, an African American, while
sensitive to white discrimination, is himself vicious about gay and white persons.
Although already ill, she wrote a parody of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot; and
worked on her major play, Les Blancs, the title of which ("The Whites") carried an
obvious reference to Jean Genet's The Blacks. She also wrote a television drama on
slavery, which, while it did not appear on television, was published in 1972 as The
Drinking Gourd. Other works included The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for
Equality, What Use Are Flowers"
In 1963 she left her hospital bed to give a talk to the winners of the United Negro College
Fund writing contest, in which she used the phrase "To be young, gifted, and Black,"
which later became the title of her own autobiography, a collection of her assorted
writings edited by Nemiroff. She died of cancer on January 12, 1965.