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Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. She was the granddaughter of freed slaves and the youngest of four children. Her father was a real estate broker and her mother was a teacher who often donated to the NAACP. In 1938, the Hansberrys moved to a predominantly White neighborhood and were attacked. A court ordered them to leave their house in the Supreme Court Case Hansberry v. Lee.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She originally majored in painting but later switched her major to writing. She dropped out after two years and moved to New York City. There, she attended the New School for Social Research. She simultaneously worked for Paul Robeson’s newspaper, Freedom, as a writer and associate editor from 1950 to 1953.
While working for Robeson’s newspaper, Hansberry also worked as a waitress and cashier. In 1956, she quit her jobs and pursued writing full-time. By 1957, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and wrote letters for their magazine, The Ladder. She wrote about feminism and homophobia, revealing her own homosexuality in the letters. She published under her initials, L.H., out of fear of discrimination.
Hansberry wrote a stage play, titled The Crystal Stair. She later changed the title to A Raisin in the Sun, which is a line from Langston Hughes’ poem, A Dream Deferred. Her play opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on March 11, 1959. Her play was performed a total of 530 times.
A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a Black woman to make it to Broadway. And at the age of 29, Hansberry was the youngest American-based playwright to win a New York Critics’ Circle Award. The film adaptation of her play, starring Sidney Poitier, was released in 1961 and won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Hansberry joined the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. Like many other writers, she began writing and speaking out about social injustices. In 1963, she wrote her second play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Her stageplay was released in 1964 and did not draw in a substantial audience. That same year, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Lorraine Hansberry ultimately died from her cancer on January 12, 1965. She was 34 years old. Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish Songwriter and Hansberry’s former husband and writing partner, compiled her writings and interviews into a play. The play was titled To Be Young, Gifted and Black. It opened off-Broadway and ran for eight months.
Hansberry was only here for a short period of time but made a great impact on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun has evolved into a timeless piece that will remain in the American stageplay cannon for decades, if not centuries, to come. Hansberry continues to inspire writers and activists alike with her work.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi). Thank you.**