On March 11, 1959, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry opened in the Barrymore Theater in New York to high acclaim. It was the first play by an African American playwright to be produced on Broadway as well as the first play by an African American to win the New York Drama Circle Award for best play of the year, competing against plays by Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. Hansberry was 29 years old at the time, the youngest American and fifth woman to win the award.
Raised by parents who were active in the Civil Rights movement, Hansberry herself spent a lifetime fighting for social justice. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she immediately became politically active and integrated a dormitory, but left after two years in 1950 to attend The New School in New York City. In 1951, she became the youngest staff of Freedom, a radical black newspaper founded by Paul Robeson. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish publisher, political activist and songwriter; his success from co-writing the song “Cindy, Oh Cindy” enabled Hansberry to leave the newspaper and become a full-time writer. She perpetually used the power of her words against racism, homophobia, world peace and other social issues until her death at the tender age of 34.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer on January 12, 1965, the same day when her second Broadway play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, closed. At her funeral held in Harlem three days later, presiding minister Eugene Calder read messages from writer James Baldwin and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.”
Hansberry inspired Nina Simone’s 1969 song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Its title is the same as that of Hansberry’s autobiography which, in turn, was inspired by Hansberry’s speech to winners of a United Negro Fund creative writing conference on May 1, 1964: “Though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic–to be young, gifted and black.”
In 2013, Hansberry was posthumously inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
Park Square Theatre is proud to present Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun on its intimate Andy Boss Thrust Stage as regular show time performances to all audiences from October 28 to November 20 and as student matinees from November 1 to December 22.
Come to see an American classic by an American classic, the phenomenal Lorraine Hanesberry.
(Sources for this blog included http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorraine-Hansberry, http://www.chipublib.org/background-and-criticism-of-a-raisin-in-the-sun/ and the Park Square Theatre A Raisin in the Sun Study Guide)
NOTE: Also, be sure not to miss Park Square Theatre’s production of Nina Simone: Four Women from February 7 to 26, back by popular demand with additional songs. This powerful play performed to sell-out audiences last season so get your tickets early!