Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago in 1930, the daughter of civil rights activists and intellectuals. Her play, “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959), the first drama by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, was loosely based on her own experiences. When she was 8, her parents bought a house in a white neighborhood, where Lorraine witnessed a racist mob and her parents’ resulting civil rights case.
She studied at the University of Wisconsin for two years, then moved to New York to become a writer, working as an associate editor of Paul Robeson’s “Freedom.” She married Robert Nemiroff in 1953, whom she met on the picket line while protesting discrimination at New York University. Hansberry divorced her husband in 1964.
Hansberry selected the title of her play from a line in a poem by Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun, Or does it explode?” Sidney Poitier starred in both the play and film versions. The play’s central protagonist is Beneatha, an eager young woman determined to fight social convention and go to medical school. Beneatha is a “self-avowed” atheist (who gets slapped by her mother for admitting it).
Hansberry wrote “The Drinking Gourd,” commissioned by the National Broadcasting Co., in 1959. About the American slave trade, it was considered too hot for television and was never produced. Her play, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” (1964), was about a Jewish intellectual. It played on Broadway while Hansberry was hospitalized for cancer that cut her life short at age 34. “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” was posthumously adapted from her writings and was produced off-Broadway in 1969, also appearing in book form (1970). D.1965.