A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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Lorraine Hansberry | Biography

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Lorraine Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930, on Chicago's South Side (where the play takes place). She was the granddaughter of a freed slave. Her progressive middle-class parents befriended black leaders including writer and activist Langston Hughes, writer and activist W.E.B. DuBois, and composer and musician Duke Ellington.

When Hansberry was eight, her family moved to a predominantly white Chicago neighborhood. Residents harassed them and were openly hostile. The Hansberrys pursued a court case that eventually allowed them to remain in their home.

Hansberry moved to New York in 1950 to pursue a writing career. She wrote for the weekly black newspaper Freedom and married writer Robert Nemiroff (1929–91). A Raisin in the Sun, based on her family's story, took a year to get to Broadway. Investors weren't sure a drama about African American experiences would reach a wide audience. Once the play opened in 1959 it became a hit with audiences and critics, opening the doors for other black artists in professional theater. Hansberry received the New York Critics' Circle Award, becoming the youngest American and first black playwright to be given the honor.

Hansberry championed civil rights causes, joining other black activists to meet with politician Robert Kennedy in 1963. She also contributed to the feminist publication The Ladder, where she anonymously revealed her identity as a lesbian. Her second and final staged play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window (1964), featured Jewish bohemians in New York.

Hansberry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1964 and died on January 12, 1965. Nemiroff later collected her interviews and writings in the playTo Be Young, Gifted and Black, which premiered off-Broadway in 1968. Nemiroff called the collection "a prophetic chapter in the history of a people and an age."

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