Lorraine Hansberry, 1959.
|Born||Lorraine Vivian Hansberry|
May 19, 1930
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||January 12, 1965 34) (aged|
New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Playwright, writer, stage director|
|Education|| University of Wisconsin–Madison |
The New School
Robert B. Nemiroff (m. 1953–1964)
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965) was a playwright and writer.
Hansberry was the first black female author to have 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?"
Broadway theatre, also known simply as Broadway, refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.
A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry that debuted on Broadway in 1959. The title comes from the poem "Harlem" by Langston Hughes. The story tells of a black family's experiences in "Clybourne Park", a fictionalized version of the Washington Park Subdivision of Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood, as they attempt to improve their financial circumstances with an insurance payout following the death of the father. The New York Drama Critics' Circle named it the best play of 1959.
Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, refers to the segregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation in the United States along racial lines. The term mainly refers to the legally or socially enforced separation of African Americans from whites, but is also used in regards to the separation of other ethnic minorities from majority mainstream communities. While mainly referring to the physical separation and provision of separate facilities, it can also refer to other manifestations such as the separation of roles within an institution. Notably, in the United States Armed Forces up until the 1950s, black units were typically separated from white units but were nevertheless still led by white officers.
At the young age of 29, she won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award — making her the first black dramatist, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright to do so.
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. She died of cancer at the age of 34. Hansberry inspired the song by Nina Simone entitled "To Be Young, Gifted and Black".
Paul Leroy Robeson was an American bass baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism. Educated at Rutgers College and Columbia University, he was also a star athlete in his youth. He also studied Swahili and linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London in 1934. His political activities began with his involvement with unemployed workers and anti-imperialist students whom he met in Britain and continued with support for the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War and his opposition to fascism. In the United States he also became active in the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice campaigns. His sympathies for the Soviet Union and for communism, and his criticism of the United States government and its foreign policies, caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community, and after completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
Eunice Kathleen Waymon, known professionally as Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
Lorraine Hansberry was the youngest of four children born to Carl Augustus Hansberry, a successful real-estate broker and Nannie Louise (born Perry), a driving school teacher and ward committeewoman. In 1938, her father bought a house in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago, 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.
Carl Augustus Hansberry was an American real estate broker, inventor and political activist. He was also the father of award-winning playwright Lorraine Hansberry and the great-grandfather of actress Taye Hansberry.
The Washington Park Subdivision is the name of the historic 3-city block by 8-city block subdivision in the northwest corner of the Woodlawn community area, on the South Side of Chicago in Illinois that stands in the place of the original Washington Park Race Track. The area evolved as a redevelopment of the land previously occupied by the racetrack. It was originally an exclusively white neighborhood that included residential housing, amusement parks, and beer gardens.
Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940), is a famous case now usually known in civil procedure for teaching that res judicata may not bind a subsequent plaintiff who had no opportunity to be represented in the earlier civil action. The facts of the case dealt with a racially restrictive covenant that barred African Americans from purchasing or leasing land in the Washington Park Subdivision of Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood. The covenant had been upheld in a prior class action lawsuit, which had included Lee, along with all the other neighborhood landowners, as members of the class. The defense in the present case argued that Carl Augustus Hansberry could not contest the covenant because it had already been deemed valid by the courts in the prior lawsuit.
The Hansberrys were routinely visited by prominent black people, including sociology professor W.E.B. DuBois, poet Langston Hughes, actor and political activist Paul Robeson, musician Duke Ellington and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens. 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."
William Leo Hansberry was an American scholar and lecturer. He was the older brother of real estate broker Carl Augustus Hansberry, uncle of award-winning playwright Lorraine Hansberry and great-granduncle of actress Taye Hansberry.
Howard University is a private, federally chartered historically black university (HBCU) in Washington, D.C. It is categorized by the Carnegie Foundation as a research university with higher research activity and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Lorraine Hansberry has many notable relatives including director and playwright Shauneille Perry, whose eldest child is named after her. Her grandniece is actress Taye Hansberry. Her cousin is the flutist, percussionist, and composer Aldridge Hansberry.
Hansberry became the godmother to Nina Simone's daughter Lisa—now known as Simone.
Hansberry graduated from Betsy Ross Elementary in 1944 and from Englewood High School in 1948.She attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she immediately became politically active and integrated a dormitory. Hansberry's classmate Bob Teague remembered her as "...the only girl I knew who could whip together a fresh picket sign with her own hands, at a moment's notice, for any cause or occasion".
She worked on Henry A. Wallace's presidential campaign in 1948, despite her mother's disapproval.She spent the summer of 1949 in Mexico, studying painting at the University of Guadalajara.
She decided in 1950 to leave Madison and pursue her career as a writer in New York City, where she attended The New School. She moved to Harlem in 1951and became involved in activist struggles such as the fight against evictions.
In 1951, she joined the staff of the black journal Freedom Newspaper, edited by Louis E. Burnham and published by Paul Robeson. At Freedom, she worked with W. E. B. Du Bois, whose office was in the same building, and other Black Pan-Africanists.At the newspaper, she worked as "subscription clerk, receptionist, typist and editorial assistant" in addition to writing news articles and editorials.
One of her first reports covered the Sojourners for Truth and Justice convened in Washington, D.C., by Mary Church Terrell.She traveled to Georgia to cover the case of Willie McGee, and was inspired to write the poem "Lynchsong" about his case.
She worked on not only the US civil rights movement, but also global struggles against colonialism and imperialism.Hansberry wrote in support of the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, criticizing the mainstream press for its biased coverage.
Hansberry often clarified these global struggles by explaining them in terms of female participants. She was particularly interested in the situation of Egypt, "the traditional Islamic 'cradle of civilization,' where women had led one of the most important fights anywhere for the equality of their sex."
In 1952, Hansberry attended a peace conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, in place of Paul Robeson, who had been denied travel rights by the State Department.
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 her second Broadway play, 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. On the night before their wedding in 1953, Nemiroff and Hansberry protested the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in New York City.
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.
Opening on March 11, 1959, A Raisin in the Sun became the first play written by an black woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.Over the next two years, Raisin was translated into 35 languages and was being performed all over the world.
In April 1959, as a sign of her growing fame, photographer David Attie did an extensive photo-shoot of Hansberry, at home in her Bleecker Street apartment, for Vogue magazine.
Hansberry wrote two screenplays of Raisin, both of which were rejected as controversial by Columbia Pictures. Commissioned by NBC in 1960 to create a television program about slavery, Hansberry wrote The Drinking Gourd. This script was called "superb" but also rejected.
In 1960, during Delta Sigma Theta's 26th national convention in Chicago, Hansberry was made an honorary member.
In 1961, Hansberry was set to replace Vinnette Carroll as the director of the musical Kicks and Co, after its try-out at Chicago's McCormick Place. Written by Oscar Brown, Jr., it featured an interracial cast including Lonnie Sattin, Nichelle Nichols, Vi Velasco, Al Freeman, Jr., Zabeth Wilde, and Burgess Meredith in the title role of Mr. Kicks. A satire involving miscegenation, the $400,000 production was co-produced by her husband Robert Nemiroff; despite a warm reception in Chicago, the show never made it to Broadway.
In 1963, Hansberry participated in a meeting with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, set up by James Baldwin.
Also in 1963, Hansberry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She underwent two operations, on June 24 and August 2. Neither of the surgeries was successful in removing the cancer.
On March 10, 1964, Hansberry and Nemiroff divorced but continued to work together.
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 .The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window ran for 101 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died.
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 to go to 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.
Hansberry died of pancreatic canceron 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." The 15th was also Dr. King's birthday. She is buried at Asbury United Methodist Church Cemetery in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.
Hansberry's ex-husband, Robert Nemiroff, became the executor for several unfinished manuscripts.He added minor changes to complete the play Les Blancs , which Julius Lester termed her best work, and he adapted many of her writings into the play To Be Young, Gifted and Black , which was the longest-running Off Broadway play of the 1968–69 season. It appeared in book form the following year under the title To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. She left behind an unfinished novel and several other plays, including The Drinking Gourd and What Use Are Flowers?, with a range of content, from slavery to a post-apocalyptic future.
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.
Nina Simone first released a song about Hansberry in 1969 called "To Be Young, Gifted and Black." The title of the song refers to the title of Hansberry's autobiography, which Hansberry first coined when speaking to the winners of a creative writing conference on May 1, 1964, "though it is a thrilling and marvellous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic — to be young, gifted and black."Simone wrote the song with the poet Weldon Irvine and told him that she wanted lyrics that would "make black children all over the world feel good about themselves forever." When Irvine read the lyrics after it was finished, he thought, "I didn't write this. God wrote it through me." In a recording to the introduction of the song, Simone explained the difficulty of losing a close friend and talented artist.
Patricia and Fredrick McKissack wrote a children's biography of Hansberry, Young, Black, and Determined , in 1998.
In 1999 Hansberry was posthumously inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Hansberry in the biographical dictionary 100 Greatest African Americans .
The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre of San Francisco, which specializes in original stagings and revivals of black 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 2010, Hansberry was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.
In 2013, Hansberry was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people. This makes her the first Chicago-native honored along the North Halsted corridor.
Also in 2013, Lorraine Hansberry was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
Lorraine Hansberry Elementary School was located in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it has since closed.
In 2017, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
In January 2018, the PBS series American Masters released a new documentary, Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, directed by Tracy Heather Strain.
On September 18, 2018 the biography Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry was published by Beacon Press and written by scholar Imani Perry.
Ralph David Carter is an American actor and singer best remembered as Michael Evans, the youngest child of Florida and James Evans, Sr., on the CBS sitcom Good Times from 1974–1979. Before joining Good Times, Carter appeared in the Broadway musical Raisin, based on the Lorraine Hansberry drama A Raisin in the Sun; as was noted in the credits during the first season.
Phylicia Rashād is an American actress, singer and stage director. She is known for her role as Clair Huxtable on the NBC sitcom The Cosby Show (1984–92), which earned her Emmy Award nominations in 1985 and 1986. She was dubbed "The Mother" of the black community at the 2010 NAACP Image Awards.
Raisin is a musical theatre adaptation of the Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun, with songs by Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan, and a book by Robert Nemiroff and Charlotte Zaltzberg.
Shauneille Perry is an American stage director and playwright. She was one of the first African-American women to direct off-Broadway.
Black Gold is a live album by American jazz musician Nina Simone recorded in 1969 at the Philharmonic Hall, New York City. She got a 1971 nomination for a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, but lost to Aretha Franklin.
Eliza "Virginia" Capers was an American actress. She won the Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical in 1974 for her performance as Lena Younger in Raisin, a musical version of Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun.
Philip Rose was a Broadway theatrical producer of such productions as A Raisin in the Sun, The Owl and the Pussycat, Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, Purlie, and Shenandoah. His work was particularly notable for its social insight and distinctive social conscience.
"To Be Young, Gifted and Black" is a song by Nina Simone with lyrics by Weldon Irvine. It was written in memory of Simone's late friend Lorraine Hansberry, author of the play A Raisin in the Sun, who had died in 1965 aged 34. The song was originally recorded and released by Simone in 1969. The song was also featured on her 1970 album Black Gold and was considered an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Released as a single, it peaked at number eight on the R&B chart and number 76 on the Hot 100.
Diana Sands was an American actress, perhaps most famous for her portrayal of Beneatha Younger, the sister of Sidney Poitier's character in the original stage and film versions of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (1961). She also appeared in a number of dramatic television series in the 1960s and 1970s such as I Spy, as Davala Unawa in the 1967 The Fugitive episode "Dossier on a Diplomat", Dr. Harrison in the Outer Limits episode "The Mice", and Julia. Sands also starred in the 1963 film An Affair of the Skin as the narrator and photographer, Janice.
Black Girl is an American family drama film directed by Ossie Davis based on a play written by J.E. Franklin. The film explores issues and experiences of black womanhood in the 1970s, including how black women were depicted and common stereotypes of the period. According to Melvin Donalson in Black Directors in Hollywood, "Black Girl is a film that explores the intricate and sometimes painful connections between mothers and daughters."
Esther Cooper Jackson is an African-American civil rights activist, former social worker and, along with Shirley Graham Du Bois, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edward Strong, and Louis E. Burnham, was one of the founding editors of the magazine Freedomways, a theoretical, political and literary journal published from 1961 to 1985. She was married to James E. Jackson (1914–2007), an influential labor activist.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window is the second and last staged play by playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun. The play is a story about a man named Sidney, his pitfalls within his personal life, and struggles in Bohemian culture. The play premiered October 15, 1964 and received mixed reviews. It encompasses themes of race, suicide, homosexuality, and also focuses on individual characters learning to cope with life.
Les Blancs is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry. It debuted on Broadway on November 15, 1970 and ran until December 19 of that same year. It debuted to heavy criticism. It was Lorraine Hansberry’s final work and she considered it her most important, as it depicts the plights of colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is her only play that takes place in Africa, and it uses dance and music both as signifiers of black and African cultures; a concept called the Black Aesthetic.
To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in her Own Words, was written by Lorraine Hansberry, an American writer best known for her 1957 play A Raisin in the Sun, a play that made Hansberry the first black author of a show on Broadway. After her death in 1965, Hansberry's ex-husband and friend, songwriter and poet Robert Nemiroff, collated her unpublished writings and adapted them into a stage play that first ran from 1968 to 1969 off Broadway. It was then converted into an equally successful autobiography with the same title.
(To Be) Young, Gifted and Black may refer to:
Charlotte Zaltzberg was nominated for a Tony Award in 1974 for co-writing the book for the 1973 Broadway musical Raisin, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1974. She worked with Robert Nemiroff, Lorraine Hansberry's former husband and the executor of her estate, on adaptations of Hansberry's work for theater productions.
Robert B. Nemiroff was an American theater producer and songwriter, and was the husband of Lorraine Hansberry.
After the first showing, co-producers Burt Charles D'Lugoff and Robert Nemiroff announced that original director Vinnette Carroll would be replaced by Nemiroff's wife, prize-winning playwright Lorraine (A Raisin in the Sun) Hansberry in her first major directing spot.
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