The Life of Lorraine Hansberry

695 words | 3 page(s)

Lorraine Hansberry, one of the most notable playwrights of the 1950’s and 1960’s, led a short, but fruitful life during which she wrote one of the most recognizable plays of the 1950’s, A Raisin in the Sun, and fought for equal rights during the Civil Rights movement. As a young, black, female playwright, Lorraine Hansberry had a significant impact during her time.

Lorraine Hansberry is an interesting playwright to study due to her background and involvement in the Civil Rights movement. As the first female African American playwright to write a play to be produced on Broadway, Hansberry plays an important role in both African American history as well as women’s history. Her plays speak out on the plight of the African American living in the United States during a time of segregation and violence against the black community. Working alongside African American visionaries and Civil Rights Movement leaders, Hansberry played an important role in the demolition of segregation and the movement towards equal rights for African Americans during her lifetime.

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Lorraine Hansberry’s most notable play, A Raisin in the Sun, is considered an integral part of American literature and especially African American literature. A Raisin in the Sun opened in 1959 and immediately gained popularity and positive reviews. The play draws inspiration from Langston Hughes’s poem, “Harlem”, of which one of the poem’s lines was used as the title of the play. The play’s plotline follows the story of a black family in Chicago living in poverty. This play is significant because it is one of Hansberry’s most notable works and also the work that earned her the title as the “first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle Award” (Lorraine Vivian Hansberry 3rd 1). The play was also adapted for Broadway as well as later for film, confirming the popularity of the play and adding to its reach in viewership.

Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago on May 19th, 1930. Her father, Carl A. Hansberry, and mother, Nanny Perry Hansberry, were both very active in the African American community, working towards equal rights and protesting segregation. Most notably, her family moved into a segregated white neighborhood which had a restrictive covenant in place. Upon their move, the Hansberry family was subjected to violent protests against their inhabitance in the neighborhood. Despite this, the family did not move out of the neighborhood until a court ordered them to do so. Their case was taken to the Supreme Court which ended in a ruling declaring such restriction as illegal; however, they were still often enforced in cities such as Chicago (Lewis 1).

During her adult life, Hansberry studied at the University of Wisconsin for two years before moving to New York City to pursue her writing career. Her play, A Raisin in the Sun, was written in 1957 and received rave reviews and awards, earning her notoriety. After the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry wrote a drama intended for television on the topic of slavery which NBC later rejected because executives did not agree that a black screenwriter should write on the topic (Lewis 1). Hansberry wrote several other plays throughout her lifetime, though none enjoyed the success of A Raisin in the Sun. She married Robert Nemiroff in 1953 and they were divorced in 1964. Hansberry later died on January 12, 1965 from pancreatic cancer.

A common theme in the writing of Hansberry is the African American struggle. As such, it can be inferred that her upbringing as well as involvement in Civil Rights activities greatly influenced her writing. Having been raised by parents actively fighting against segregation, it can be assumed that Hansberry used many of her personal experiences as fodder when writing her various plays, which focus on African American history, life as well as the challenges associated with being black in a white-dominated, segregated society.

Lorraine Hansberry is one of the most influential playwrights of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Her contributions to the Civil Rights movements and works illustrating what it meant to be an African American in an era of racial segregation have made her an integral part of American, African-American, and women’s history.

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