Lorraine Hansberry

A groundbreaking playwright and essayist, Lorraine Hansberry is best known as the author of A Raisin in the Sun that ensured a place for African American experience in American theatre.  She was the first African American woman to have a show produced on Broadway, the first black playwright and the youngest American to receive, in 1959, the prestigious New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play, and the first African American to win the distinguished Drama Desk Award.  Numerous revivals of her play worldwide have gone on to receive repeated critical acclaim, including a 1961 film version, television versions, and 2004 and 2014 Broadway revivals. In the six years between her first play and her death at age 34, Ms. Hansberry was a recognized intellectual and activist, illuminating and working on civil rights struggles and poverty, prejudice and oppression.  Among her works published posthumously, Les Blancs, a play about the inevitable crisis that would grow out of colonialism and racism in Africa, ran successfully on Broadway; its 2016 run at the National Theatre in London was met with high praise and, says its theatre director, is noteworthy for the play’s relevance in tackling colonialism’s unfinished business of a “reckoning.”  Martin Luther King Jr.’s message at Ms. Hansberry’s funeral honored her saying:  “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.”  In 1964, Hansberry expressed it this way when she spoke to the winners of United Negro Fund writing competition: “…though it be 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!”

Photo by Gin Briggs, courtesy of the Jewell Handy Gresham-Nemiroff Trust and Joi Gresham, LHLT.org

Lorraine Hansberry

Year Honored: 2017

Birth: 1930 - 1965

Born In: Illinois

Achievements: Arts, Humanities

Educated In: Illinois, New York, Wisconsin, United States of America, Mexico

Schools Attended: Betsy Ross Elementary, Englewood High School, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Guadalajara, The New School