Black Power Movement

Lorraine Hansberry 1930-1964

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Biography and background

In her brief life, Lorraine Hansberry made a huge impact on the American and world theatre.  Born in Chicago into a middle class, educated family, the story goes that when her parents came to register her birth, they crossed out the printed ‘Negro’ and hand-wrote the word ‘Black.’  Fervent political campaigners, her parents defied Chicago law by moving into a white province and Lorraine was sent to public schools in protest against segregation.

After graduating from University and working a series of part-time jobs she wrote her landmark first play, A Raisin in the Sun.  Her second, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window closed on the day she died of cancer.  She left behind a number of unfinished works, including a further play, Les Blancs and a sketch for an opera, Toussaint.

Why is she important?

Termed ‘young, gifted and black,’ Hansberry was the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway and the youngest American ever to win the Drama Critics’ Circle Award.  A Raisin In the Sun was first produced in 1959.  It exploded previous stereotypes of black people (for example, the ‘tragic mulatto’ and the nurturing ‘mammy’ figure), opening up debates about ‘Afrocentricity’ which foreshadowed both the Black Power Movement and Black Pride.

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A Raisin in the Sun. A theatre classic; a brilliant examination of the African-American family in the 1950s.  It takes its inspiration from a stanza from a poem by Langston Hughes: ‘What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/Like a raisin in the sun?’

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. A collection of Hansberry’s diaries, journals, essays and letters blended into a two-part drama by her former husband, Robert Nemiroff.  It was also published as a book. 

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