Black American Women Poets and Dramatists

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Lorraine Hansberry
1930-1965

LORRAINE VIVIAN HANSBERRY was bom on May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of four children of a well-to-do family. Her father, Carl Augustus Hansberry, the founder of his own real estate business, was a prominent figure in the black community in Chicago, and in her youth Hansberry encountered such distinguished figures as Paul Robeson and Duke Ellington. In 1938 her father bought a house in a white neighborhood and fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to live there. Even after his death in 1946, prominent black artists and politicians continued to be frequent guests to the Hansberry house.

Hansberry graduated from Englewood High School in Chicago in 1947. She studied art, English, and stage design at the University of Wisconsin but left in 1950 without taking a degree. Nevertheless, her urge to write was stimulated at Wisconsin, especially when she saw a production of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. Moving to New York later that year, she began to write full-time for Freedom magazine, which was founded by Paul Robeson. Her articles on Africa and on civil rights issues affecting blacks, women, and the poor, and her speeches to civil rights and other groups, made her a prominent young spokeswoman for progressive causes. In 1952 she attended the Intercontinental Peace Congress in Montevideo, Uruguay, in place of Paul Robeson, whose passport had been removed by the U.S. government. After marrying Robert Barron Nemiroff, a Jewish man, in 1953, she devoted herself to writing while working at a variety of odd jobs, including a brief teaching stint at the Jefferson School of Social Science. The couple's financial worries were relieved when a song cowritten by Nemiroff became a hit, allowing Hansberry to quit her jobs and write full‐ time.

Hansberry's first play, A Raisin in the Sun, was begun in 1956 and completed in 1958. It is a starkly realistic play about the life of several generations of a black family on the South Side of Chicago, perhaps inspired in part by Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, although the title is taken from

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