Born on the 19th of May in 1930, in Chicago, Illinois, Lorraine Hansberry was a bright daughter of Carl Augustus Hansberry, a political activist, while her mother, Nannie Louise, was a schoolteacher. Due to racial differences, Lorraine and her family faced racism when she was just eight. Their white neighbors tried their best to make them move. Although many people vacated their houses due to racial discrimination, her brave father refused to surrender and faced the communal wrath with courage.
Lorraine Hansberry, a great literary figure, started her educational journey from Betsy Ross Elementary School where she completed her graduation in 1914 followed by another degree in 1918 from Englewood High School. Later, she joined the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she got engaged in politics. She joined The Communist Party of America and provided her commendable services in the Henry A Wallace’s Campaign in 1948. Besides being active in politics, she pursued her other interests, too, as in 1949, she studied arts and painting at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico. By 1950, she decided to pursue writing as a career and went to New York. There, she joined The New School to polish her creative abilities.
Although Lorraine’s literary career won her accolades from her readers, yet she remained unsuccessful in terms of marital relationships. She married Robert Nemiroff, a political activist and songwriter, on the 20th of June in 1953. Unfortunately, despite having mutual understanding, they failed to develop a lifelong relationship and parted ways in 1957. However, they remained professional partners until Lorraine’s death.
Lorraine faced a hard blow of tragedy in 1963 when she faced a severe attack and was subsequently hospitalized. During the examination, she was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent major surgeries afterward. Despite facing acute health issues, she left her sickbed to attend an event, “The Black Revolution and the White Backlash.” Unfortunately, life became harder for her as in October 1964 she lost her eyesight and had lapses and convulsions due to brain damage. She lost the battle of life at a very young age. She died on the 12th of January in 1965 and was buried at Asbury United Methodist Church Cemetery.
Some Facts of Her Life
- Her masterpiece, Raisin in the Sun, has been translated into over thirty languages.
- Lorraine was the first African-American female writer to have a play staged in Broadway.
- The play was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1959, beating out plays written by celebrities such as Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill.
- She not only played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement but also worked for global struggles against imperialism and colonialism.
Lorraine Hansberry, a towering figure of the nineteenth century, started writing literary pieces at a very young. With the compositions of plays and essays, she laid the foundation of her literary career. First, she wrote news articles and editorials for a newspaper. Later, keeping an account of the struggle of the black race against white supremacy, she played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement. Based on the struggle of a poor black family and the stance of a prejudiced society, she came up with her first play, A Raisin in the Sun. It was a huge hit and proved to be a game-changer for the African American culture. It is through this piece, she successfully exhibited the suppressed and desperate desires of her community. However, her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, presented the broad-ranging concerns of division and prevalent injustices in the society, touching the issues of sexuality, gender, and class. Besides writing plays, she also produced essays and folksongs.
Lorraine Hansberry still stands among one of the influential figures of world literature. With the help of her unique style, she has beautifully portrayed her ideas in her literary pieces. Her distinctive literary style relies largely on free indirect speech, irony, and presentation of literary realism. To critique the superiority of the whites, she used blended words and different dialects in her pieces. Moreover, her ironic style presents a biting insight into racism, deprivation, and injustices in American society. The recurring themes in most of her literary pieces stand moral choices, racial discrimination, family, and the ability to control one’s destiny, while for figurative language, she relied mostly on denotation, connotation, paradoxes, and symbols.
Some Important Works of Lorraine Hansberry
- Best Plays: Some of her best plays include Les Blancs, A Raisin in the Sun, and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.
- Other Works: Besides writing plays, she tried her hands on nonfiction, too. Some of them include The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality, To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, The Arrival of Mr. Todog – parody of Waiting for Godot and On Summer.
Lorraine Hansberry’s Impact on Future Literature
Lorraine Hansberry, with her unique abilities, left a profound impact on the global literature and even after years of her demise, she continues to be adored for her biting approach to prejudice and oppression. Her witty ideas, along with distinct literary qualities, were applauded by critics and other fellow writers. Her impact resonates strongly inside as well as outside America. In fact, her masterpieces provided the principles for the writers of succeeding generations.
- “Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning-because that ain’t the time at all…when you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.” (A Raisin in the Sun)
- “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams -but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worthwhile.” (A Raisin in the Sun)
- “[I am] A fool who believes that death is waste and love is sweet and that the earth turns and men change every day and that rivers run and that people wanna be better than they are and that flowers smell good and that I hurt terribly today, and that hurt is desperation and desperation is—energy and energy can move things…” (The Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window)