Lorraine Hansberry

30 03 2010

A Women’s Firsts blurb (part of an ongoing series):


The first African American woman to have her play produced on Broadway was Lorraine Hansberry. The production was A Raisin in the Sun and the year was 1959. Written from her own past experiences, the production earned her the New York Drama Critics Circle Award of Best Play for which she was the youngest American playwright to receive the honor, only the fifth woman to do so and the first African American woman.

Hansberry died at the young age of 34. In her short life, she worked not only as a significant playwright but also as an activist. She spoke openly about racism and oppression and pursued Civil Rights for all people, regardless of race or sexual orientation.

Though she was married to a man for part of her adult life, Hansberry also dated women. Her interest in the intersectionality of gay rights and the progression of women’s rights in particular led her to the lesbian organization the Daughters of Bilitis. In a 1957 letter to their publication The Ladder, Hansberry expressed:

“I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced and dissect and analyze them quite to pieces in a serious fashion”

She looked specifically at the connections among misogyny and homophobia, going on to write:

“There may be women to emerge who will be able to formulate a new and possible concept that homosexual persecution and condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma.”

The little I’ve learned about Lorraine Hansberry is not enough. I am looking to her for the courage I need when I’m forming my voice.

I plan on reading more about her as soon as I find a good book – if you have any particular recommendations – please let me know in the comments!