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Posts Tagged Langston Hughes

I Didn’t Know That!

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is playing on Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage from October 28 to November 20. Here are some Raisin-related facts that you may not have known:

 

A Raisin in the Sun was originally titled A Crystal Stair, an allusion to a line in the poem “Mother to Son,” when Lorraine Hansberry began writing the play in 1957.

Producers Philip Rose and David Cogan took over a year to raise enough money from 150 investors to mount the original run of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959.

Columbia Pictures had hired Lorraine Hansberry to write the screenplay for A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry ended up writing two screenplays, only to have both rejected as being too controversial by studio executives.

The completed film version of A Raisin in the Sun, which was released in 1961, had cut out over a third of Hansberry’s original screenplay as well as downplayed the Youngers’ poor living conditions. Hansberry’s opening with Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” superimposed over a montage of scenes in Southside Chicago’s ghetto was one of those cuts; and his poem, in fact, appears nowhere in the film.

Lorraine Hansberry was the godmother to Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa.

The FBI kept a file on Lorraine Hansberry due to her social activism.

A Raisin in the Sun inspired a musical, Raisin, in 1973. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Greta Oglesby, who will play Mama (Lena Younger) in Park Square Theatre’s production, was the understudy for Phylicia Rashad as Mama when A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004. It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Director Warren C. Bowles considered actor Theo Langason for both the roles of George Murchison and Joseph Asagai–a wealthy young black man and a poor Nigerian college student, respectively–who want to marry Beneatha Younger (Mama’s daughter). Langason was ultimately cast as Asagai.

 

oglesby-greta-2016-bw          langason-theo-2015

Greta Oglesby and Theo Langason

 

Sources:

http://www.enotes.com/topics/raisin-in-the-sun/themes
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorraine_Hansberry
http://dx.dol.org/10.1080/0033563042000206790
http://parksquaretheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/Raisin-in-the-Sun-Study-Guide-10-9.pdf

A Little Poetry from A Raisin in the Sun

In the very beginning of the script of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun there is a short poem byLangston Hughes. It is called “Harlem” and goes like this:

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

The piece is vivid and compelling. It fills the reader with how essential dreams are to a person’s life by showing them what happens when they’re ignored, or deferred. Will they dry up, crust over or even explode?

A lot of critical analysis has gone into this poem and it is arguably Hughes’s most famous. I certainly read it in high school and was therefore pleasantly surprised when I put the pieces together between the poem and the play that takes it’s name from the third line.

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Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

 

Clearly Hansberry was just as transfixed by the imagery and wanted to convey the same feelings in her own work. Like the play, Hughes’s poem is universal in it’s themes , although we all know he is specifically commenting on the experiences of African Americans. Could the poem be a warning then? While not especially violent in tone, you could definitely describe the writing as bleak and ominous. The last line, “Or will it explode?”, seems to jar the reader with a sudden sense of urgency. Your mind races as you contemplate what it would mean if a dream is deferred for so long that it ruptures into a million pieces, the shrapnel flying.

langston

Langston Hughes

Of course great works of literature are always relevant, but by looking at the world Hughes lived in, you can better understand this sense of urgency. “Harlem” was written in 1951, only seven years before A Raisin in the Sun, and just at the cusp of the modern Civil Rights movement; Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954 and Rosa Parks made a name for herself in 1955. The timeline is evident and it’s roots stretch even further back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s where Langston Hughes and other African American artists first rose to prominence in the United States.

Hansberry had a rich legacy then to draw from and consequently enhance. Like Hughes before her, she created a work of art so compelling in its imagery that it has lived on to inspire others and now Park Square has the chance to bring it to life.

It’s all very exciting for any fans of literature and the dramatic arts, so this concludes today’s lesson. Study up and enjoy the show!

A Little More Poetry From Raisin

I was recently chatting with my fellow blogger, Ting Ting Cheng, about my previous blog and about how Lorraine Hansberry took her title from a line in a Langston Hughes poem entitled, “Harlem”. Well, Ting informed me, the first title Hansberry ever had in mind was A Crystal Stair which comes from another Hughes poem called “Mother to Son”.

Whaaaaaa?

I love this! Primarily because this poem is new to me and I think it is just as powerful as “Harlem”, alive with rich imagery and written in such prose that it really speaks to the common person while, again, reflecting the singular African American experience.

Here it is:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

See what I mean? I for one can’t get enough of the imagery that is so simple yet conveys so much. Words like “tacks” and “splinters” fill you with a sense of something sharp and unpleasant. The picture of a person walking through the darkness is dreadful as well as the word, “bare” – alone by itself as if to symbolize it’s own meaning.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

For all of the negative imagery, however, the poem offers up hope in the virtue of perseverance. No matter how hard the path is, the Mother continues to struggle for a higher salvation and tells her son that he must also follow this path. Up is the only way they can go and while it may not be any crystal stair, the landings will still be reached and the corners turned. Much like, “Harlem”, this poem can perfectly summarize A Raisin in the Sun. The Younger family knows these stairs better than anyone and like the Mother and Son in the poem, the generational dynamics are the key to the play. How many times does Walter want to just give up and “set down on the steps”? How many times does Mama have to fight him not to?
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Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Think about the meaning of this poem when you’re watching A Raisin in the Sun. Think about “Harlem” too. Think about all the great works of literature by African Americans like Hughes, Hansberry, August Wilson, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and a thousand others because their stories are American stories the same as anyone else’s. They need to be studied, read and seen. How lucky we are then that Park Square is telling one of those stories now.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

 

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