race and gender and through her written works, became a social activist and expanded the role of a black woman in America. Lorraine Hansberry wrote many works that allowed her to explain her views. She also explored these ideas through playwrights.
Lorraine Hansberry was said to be a spearhead of the future. She was a woman who refused to be confined by the categories of race and gender (Tripp 3).Lorraine Hansberry was born in 1930. Both of her parents were activists challenging discrimination laws. Many famous black people frequently visited her home because of her parent’s authority (Tripp 2). Two of these famous black Americans that often visited Lorraines home were Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes. They were her “shining light” so to speak.
Especially when it came time for her to find her own place in the New York literary world (Cheney 36). Paul Robeson provided great inspiration for Lorraines writings. On the other hand, Langston Hughes gave her a social consciousness of her poetic possibilities of her own race.
He also gave her an appreciation of the black American culture. She had also learned from Hughes that in spite of obstacles, black people remained a powerful force in America (Cheney 46-53). Although the Hansberry family was comfortably settled as middle-class economic status, they were still subject to the racial segregation and discrimination characteristic of the period, and they were most active in opposing it (Smith 147).Lorraines writing career was started in the area of magazines. She was writing for Paul Robesons Freedom magazine. At this time, Lorraine would always say, “I was born black and female,” these were the twin identities that would dominate her life and her work.
This was her source of motivation, by retelling this statement to herself and the others around her. Another concern of hers was the human conditions as blacks experienced it. She spent much of her life making an effort to change these conditions (Cheney 140; Tripp 2).
Lorraine Hansberrys first play was named, “The Crystal Stair.” It was named after a line in the Langston Hughes poem, “Mother to Son.” Lorraine later changed the title of her play to, “A Raisin in the Sun.” This was as well taken from one of Langston Hughes pieces, “A Dream Deferred” (Draper 951). Lorraines second play was named “The Sign in Sidney Brusteins Window.” This play never matched the success of her first play “A Raisin in the Sun.” This play did use a realistic format that was drawn from her own life (Magill, Great Women.
..201). Lorraine wrote at least five plays. All of which revealed the depth of her concern for the black race and for all of the downtrodden races in America and abroad (Cheney 52).
Lorraine Hansberry used a realistic style and had a stress on the possibilities for heroism. This stress for heroism within each of her characteristics had everything to do with the purpose that she saw in drama (Magill, Great Women…200)The majority of Lorraines works were about the black family of her time. She showed many important characteristics in each piece. Some of which were the importance of African roots, the equality of women, and the vulnerability of marriage (Draper 953).The play “The Crystal Stair,” later changed to “A Raisin in the Sun”, was about a man with a plea for racial tolerance over the incentive society in his time (Draper 950).
This was merely based on Lorraines childhood experiences of the disintegrating of white neighborhoods. It also portrayed slavery as uncontrollable and completely the work victimizing institutions designed to exploit cheaper labor. This play also focuses on the problem of what a family should do with $10,000 that a mother receives as an insurance payment after the death of her husband. Lorraine got the idea for that part of the play directly out of her own home, in the way that this was the same problem Lorraines mother faced at the time of her husbands death. (Magill, Gre4at Women…200).
“Because the play explores a universal theme-the search for the freedom and better life- the majority of its first audience loved the work (Draper 951).” “A Raisin in the Sun” won the award as the Best Play of the Year in the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. By winning this award, Lorraine opened the door for generations to come of black writers who were encouraged by her. She was the first black person as well as the first female to win this award (Tripp 2; Smith 151).A moving testament to the strength and endurance of the human spirit, “A Raisin in the Sun,” is a quiet celebration of the black family, the importance of African roots, the equality of women, the vulnerability of marriage, the true value of money, the survival of the individual, and the nature of a mans dream (Cheney 53).Lorraine Hansberry used the success she gained from A Raisin in the Sun as a platform to speak out for the American Civil Rights Movement and for the African struggle to free itself from white rule. At this time the whites did not have total control, but felt they were superior to the blacks and other races.
She helped raise money, gave impassioned speeches, and took part in panels and interviews to further causes (Tripp 3). Lorraine used her success in away that was useful to the society. Instead of taking the money she earned from her playwrights and keeping it for herself and family, she put it towards the Civil Rights Movements. She used her first play to make her a public figure and she used her new found fame to champion the causes of civil rights and African independence (Magill, Great Women..
.200). Hansberry succeeded in her goal, which was in creating believable rounded black people. An early interview in the New York Times misquoted her as saying that “A Raisin in the Sun, said not a Negro play, and that she was a writer who happened to be a Negro.” This caused much commotion in the arts and her life until it was cleared as untrue (Smith 155).After Lorraine Hansberry wrote her few plays, she quickly took on the task of becoming an articulate spokesperson for black Americans in the struggles for civil rights. Lorraine was a well vocal critic of racial discrimination.
She also spoke highly of sexual and class discrimination. These themes were the basis for most of her plays and her career (Draper 147). As the Civil Rights Movement intensified, she had the need to help out with anything she could. Hansberry helped plan fundraising events to support organizations such as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
She publicly agreed that Negroes should defend themselves against terrorist attacks when necessary (Smith 152).Lorraine never gave up her dedication to her work. She began having bad health problems. Although her health was in rapid decline, she greeted 19634 as a year of glorious work. Despite Hansberrys trips in and out of the hospital, she continued with the many projects on her writing schedule (Smith 153). One reporter noted that, “The black experience creates a lot of stress, and …
. A form of cancer can evolve from emotional stress of racism.” This was indeed to be the situation of Lorraine Hansberry (Cheney 31). Lorraine struggled to do speeches, but still attempted to remain involved in civil right activities.Lorraine Hansberry was very much both a black and female activist.
In being this way, she felt she could do anything that a person with full respect and rights could do. Feeling this way, Lorraine began to claim her identity as a lesbian in a letter, to a lesbian periodical, “The Ladder.” At the time of her death, the fact that she was a lesbian was not widely known factor to the public, as well as the fact that she had divorced her husband (Tripp 3).Lorraine Hansberrys career was very brief. She died of cancer at the age of 34 years.
Only two of her plays were produced in her lifetime, yet she did record some very impressive theatrical achievements. As mentioned earlier, she was the first black person, the youngest person, and the first woman to win the New York Drama Critics Award which was voted Best Play. Since Hansberry, no writer has captured the spectrum, depths, and heights of the black experiences as she did (Cheney 65).This scholar feels that Lorraine Hansberry has given each and every one of us a chance to do what we fell is best for ourselves. It is a shame that Lorraine Hansberry died at such a young age because this writer feels that she would have added great hope and dignity to the world we live in today. Lorraine Hansberry did not allow the restrictions of her race and gender to hold her back from becoming the woman she wanted to be.
Lorraine used these two limitations to unlock the door for others to follow in her footsteps and further the goals she helped to establish.