The play, A Raisin in the Sun, is a piece of Black literature that is a strong part of my DNA. I grew up quoting from it. My family would reenact parts of it, we had seen the Sidney Poitier movie way too many times, and every time it came to town in one form or another (play, or the musical called—Raisin!) we would go see it. It never occurred to me as I grew up that the play reflected an author’s quest to tell a universally true story. That was something I learned about later, as a scholar, when I learned about the wonder that was Lorraine Hansberry.
Lorraine Hansberry lived only 34 years. She wears this look on her face a lot of the time as if she just doesn’t care what you think of her. Before she became the first Black woman playwright on Broadway and to win the National Critics Circle Award, she was an activist and pushed hard for Civil Rights for African Americans. She wrote for Paul Robeson’s progressive newspaper and for other liberal papers, outing herself as a lesbian in the 1950’s but again: She didn’t care what you thought. She even married a Jewish man but divorced him a few years later. Maybe he got on her nerves. She packed a whole lot of living into those 34 short years and left behind that great legacy of A Raisin in the Sun.
Hansberry came by her tenacity honestly. A Raisin in the Sun is based on her family’s story of what happened when they attempted to improve their lives in the 1930’s and tried to move to an all-white community. They stayed in the house and refused to move, even when their neighbors attacked them. Their situation became the basis of a Supreme Court case, Hansberry v. Lee. Hansberry had the nerve to take the ire of their neighbors and turn it into a Broadway success. The play that lives is an example of how universal a story can be. Her tenaciousness and just plain guts reminds me of what it takes to show that one struggle can stand in place for the struggle we all face in this tumult we call life.
In the midst of these calls for diversity in publishing, I needed Lorraine Hansberry to uplift me and remind me that each day is precious and to make each day count for something in this life. I hope she inspires you to do the same.