For the first Black artist spotlight of Black History Month we shine a light on Lorraine Hansberry, the first African-American woman playwright to have a play on Broadway. That play was titled, A Raisin in the Sun.
You may have heard of A Raisin in the Sun, maybe you read it in your high school drama class like me or maybe you’ve seen the many reruns of the 2008 movie version of it on BET. However you’re familiar with A Raisin in the Sun doesn’t really matter, what matters is the fact that it’s still relevant to this day. How amazing is that? I wonder if Lorraine knew just how impactful and meaningful her play would be. In the 5th grade I wrote a biography on Lorraine now, fast forward to 2022 at the age of 24 i’m writing one again. That’s why Lorraine Hansberry is today’s spotlight.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin from 1948 to 1950 changing her major from painting to writing during her studies. While in school Hansberry was involved in student theatre. After leaving the University of Wisconsin she packed her bags and moved to New York, there she started a job as a writer at Paul Robeson’s Harlem based newspaper, Freedom. After the fall of Freedom and some time in between, in 1957 Hansberry started writing for a magazine called The Ladder which was the first lesbian publication in the U.S. Although she wrote under her initials L.H. it wasn’t hard to figure out Lorraine’s sexuality.
Next in Hansberry’s writing ventures would be a play about the Youngers, a Black family in Chicago that do their best to create a better life for themselves after the loss of the head of the Younger household Walter Younger, Sr., this play titled The Crystal Stair would become A Raisin in the Sun. At the age of 28 Hansberry’s play opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway March 11th, 1959. It was directed by actor Lloyd Richards who was the first African American to direct a play on Broadway since 1907. A Raisin in the Sun won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award making Hansberry the youngest to win the award. In 1961, a film adaptation of the play starring Sidney Poitier premiered and it received an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The next play Hansberry wrote was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, a drama about political questioning and affirmation set in Greenwich Village, New York City where she lived for years. In 1964 it had a short run on Broadway. The following year activist, playwright, and pioneer Lorraine Hansberry passed away from pancreatic cancer. Hansberry’s ex-husband Robert Nemiroff adapted a selection of her writings into a Broadway play in 1969 which would later be published into a book the next year, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.
A Raisin in the Sun the film was made again in 2008 starring Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan, Sean Combs A.K.A P. Diddy, and Audra McDonald.