An award-winning playwright who was the first black woman to have her play produced on Broadway.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born into an active black elite family in Chicago’s South Side. Her father had a real estate business, and he made history in his efforts to break racial discrimination in Chicago’s white-only neighborhoods.
Lorraine developed her political awareness at home and her interest in theater at high school.
She spent two years studying art at the University of Wisconsin, but left it for New York to practice writing when she was 20 years old. She wrote and edited for the newspaper Freedom.
As a passionate activist for civil rights, she participated in many protests.
In one protest she met Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish writer, and the two later married.
The couple shared their political views and even spent the night before their wedding protesting.
Her husband supported her work and her decision to quit her job and devote herself to writing.
At 29, she had her first play, “A Raisin in the Sun”, produced on Broadway.
It was the story of a black family from Chicago, became a hit, and was celebrated as the first dignified representation of black people on a mainstream stage.
The play ran for a year, with 530 performances, and later was made into a film. It was translated into 35 languages and re-staged on Broadway twice.
Hansberry died at 34 from cancer. Her funeral in Harlem was attended by 700 mourners, among them was Langston Hughes, who read a poem.
She and Nemiroff divorced before her death, but he remained dedicated to her work and published three of her unfinished plays.
“[…]young, gifted and black!”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- In 1960 she wrote lists of what she liked and hated. Among the “likes”, and the “hates” was her homosexuality. The list is available online.
- At her time, same-sex relationships were illegal in New York, and she never officially “come out”. She published – with only initials – articles about lesbian rights in the magazine The Ladder.
- On the list of New York’s Historic Sites, is the Lorraine Hansberry Residence – a building that she bought with money earned from her play. There she began a relationship with one of the tenants – Dorothy Secules.
- Nina Simone’s famous song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” was written in her memory and performed at her funeral.
She was also the first African American playwright and the youngest American playwright to win a New York Critics’ Circle Award