Professor Paul Rosenberg
10 March 2013
A Raisin in the Sun
The granddaughter of a freed slave Lorraine Hansberry became a spokesperson for black Americans. Deeply committed to the black struggle for equality and human rights, Lorraine Hansberry’s brilliant career as a writer was cut short by her death when she was only 35. A Raisin in the Sun was the first screen play written by a Black woman to be produced in 1959 on Broadway. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. A pioneering work by an African-American playwright, the play was a radically new representation of a black family life “A play that changed American theater.” (Random House Digital Inc, Nov 29, 2004 Drama – 160 pages). Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (1930-1965) was born May, 19, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois the youngest by seven years, of four children. Her father, Carl A. Hansberry, was a successful real estate broker, who later contributed large sums of money to NAACP and the Urban League. Her mother, Nannie Perry, was a schoolteacher who entered politics and became a ward committeewoman (Metzger 146). When Lorraine was eight her parents moved to a white neighborhood where the experiences of discrimination led to a civil rights suit that they won. Her family was violently attacked by neighbors. At an early age she learned to fight white supremacy and that Negroes were spit at, cursed and pummeled with insults and physical acts of violence. In protest to segregation her parents sent her to public schools rather than private ones. She attended Betsey Ross Elementary Schools in 1944; she was enrolled in Englewood High School. Both schools were predominantly white. Lorraine had to fight racism from the day she walked through the doors of Betsey Ross Elementary School (Nemiroff 20). She broke the family tradition of enrolling in Southern Negro Colleges and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she majored in painting. She was soon to discover that her talent lay in writing not art. After two years she decided to leave the University of Wisconsin for New York City (Metzger 146). In New York, Lorraine worked for the Freedom, a progressive black newspaper, from 1950 to 1953. In a letter to a friend she described the paper as “The journal to Negro Liberation.” In 1953 she married Robert Nemiroff a Jewish songwriter. After marriage, she worked as a waitress and cashier writing in her spare time. In 1956 she quit working at her part time jobs and devoted all her time to her writing. This is the year she started writing The Crystal Stair a play about a struggling black family in Chicago. The play was later renamed A Raisin in the Sun taking its title from a Line Langston Hughes poem (Metzger 146). What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up.
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore.
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over.
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags.
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? (Nemiroff 21)
A Raisin in the Sun, written by the then twenty-nine-year-old Hansberry, was the “moving on up” morality play of the 1960s. Raisin had something for everyone, and for this reason it was the recipient of the prestigious New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The groundbreaking play starred Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeill, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands in the Broadway production. The play told the inner as well as the outer truth about a Negro family in Chicago. It has vigor as well as veracity. The place: a tenement flat in Southside, Chicago. The time: post World War II. The plot: revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger Family: Lena Younger, the strong-willed matriarch, is the glue that holds together the Younger family. Walter Lee is married, thirty-something son who, along with his wife and...
Cited: Metzger, Linda, ed. “Lorraine Hansberry.” Black Writers. Detroit: Gale Researchers Inc. 1991 p. 146-147
Nemiroff, Robert. To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1970.
Reuben, Paul. “Chapter 8: Lorraine Hansberry. “PAL: Perspectives in American Literature – A Research and Reference Guide.
A Raisin in the Sun (E-Text), 1959; The Sign in Sidney Brusteins’s Window, 1964; The Movement (a collection of with text written by Hansberry), 1964; To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in her Own Words, 1969; unfinished works: Les Blanc, The Drinking Gourd, and What use are Flowers.
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