An African-American playwright and writer, Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, was born May 19, 1930.
The first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway, she’s best known for her play A Raisin in the Sun. It focuses on Black Americans in Chicago living under racial segregation. The struggle against segregation was well-known to Hansberry’s family, which had challenged a restrictive covenant and eventually provoked the Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee. The play’s title was taken from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
She graduated from Betsy Ross Elementary in 1944 and Englewood High School in 1948 before attending the University of Wisconsin–Madison. There, she helped to integrate a dormitory.
Hansberry moved to Harlem in 1951 and joined the staff of the black newspaper Freedom.
She married in 1953, but it’s widely believed Hansberry was a closeted lesbian. An activist for gay rights, she wrote about feminism and homophobia.
A Raisin in the Sun was finished in 1957.
Hansberry is only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. Over the next two years, Raisin was translated into 35 languages and was performed all over the world. Hansberry wrote two screenplays of Raisin. They were both rejected as controversial.
Hansberry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1963. Hansberry died at the age of 34 from cancer.
Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” was reportedly inspired by Hansberry.
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