Black HERstory: Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry (May 19th, 1930 – January 12th, 1965)

Today’s edition of Black HERstory highlights playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry was a gifted author who penned the popular play A Raisin in the Sun. She also wrote a number of political speeches, letters, and essays.

Hansberry was born the south side of Chicago and eventually moved north to a mostly white neighborhood named Woodlawn. Her family was one of the neighborhood’s first African American residents. The experience would later inspire her to write her most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun.

After discontinuing her collegiate career, Lorraine decided to make her way to New York City. “She worked on the staff of the Black newspaper Freedom under the auspices of Paul Robeson, and also 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 5th woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play”

 Unfortunately Hansberry passed away due to lung cancer at the young age of 34. Her close friend, singer and pianist Nina Simone, used the title of a speech once given by Hansberry to write the civil rights-themed song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black“.

According to James Baldwin, cancer wasn’t the sole cause of her death. He claimed that her struggle to remedy world dilemmas with literature was the more a suitable culprit. He stated:

“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.”

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