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Lorraine Hansberry Books In Order

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Publication Order of Plays

A Raisin in the Sun (1959)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Sign in Brustein's Window (1965)Description / Buy at Amazon
Les Blancs (2009)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black (1969)Description / Buy at Amazon

Lorraine Hansberry was an American author of memoirs and a playwright best known for her play A Raisin in the Sun, which made her the first Black woman to author a play that was aired on Broadway. The play tells the story of the lives of African Americans subjected to racial segregation in Chicago. Lorraine’s family struggled against this segregation which eventually led to the course case of Hansberry versus Lee at the Supreme Court.

Hansberry later moved to New York City, where she worked for a Pan-Africanist newspaper and collaborated with famous people, the likes of W.E.B Dubois and Paul Robeson. During this time, most of her work emphasized African liberation and their achievement in the world.

A Raisin in the Sun
A Raisin in the Sun is the story of an African American family desiring to break the chains of segregation and helplessness in 1950s Chicago. Despite the era in which the play was written, Lorraine
universally addresses the desire to improve one’s life circumstances while at the same time not agreeing on the best route to achieve them.

Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play as an inspiration from her childhood years living in the racially segregated Southern Side of Chicago. Her father was a strong crusader against the same segregation.
Months leading to her untimely death, Lorraine spoke about how little the society around her had changed.

Lorraine’s play is set in a one-bedroom apartment that houses three generations of the Younger family- Ruth and Walter, their son Travis, their Mother Lena, and Walter’s sister Beneatha.
The play title is derived from Langston Hughes’s poem, “Harlem,” where he questions what happens when dreams are postponed. Do the dreams dry up like a raisin in the sun?

In his poem, Hughes was speaking about the situation of African Americans who were systematically denied access to the American dreams of career, education, purchasing power, etc. Asking the readers whether deferred dreams explode is a subtle way of reminding people that dreams deferred do not always disappear, but they could eventually explode.

This epigraph helps Hansberry to bring out the universal nature of her play. Showing her readers that everyone has dreams regardless of race, and in this particular case, that African Americans have always been forced to forgo their dreams more than others

The play addresses issues that are inescapable in the modern world; the ideas of black American beauty and identity, their value systems, social class and generational conflicts, the relationships of husbands and wives, etc.

The story shows the black American family’s experiences in Chicago and their attempt to improve their lives with an insurance payout of $10,000 after the death of their father.
Walter is barely making ends meet working as a limousine driver and wishes to become wealthy, while Ruth is contented with what they have. He plans to invest his savings in a liquor store partnership with Bobo and Willy, two of his street-smart clients.

In the midst of all this drama, Beneatha’s direction in life is defined by two different men. First, there’s Beneatha’s educated, wealthy boyfriends, George Murchison and Joseph Asagai.

George is a representation of a fully assimilated man who denies his African ethnicity, which Beneatha finds irritating. On the other hand, Asagai is a decent man who teaches her about her African heritage providing her with gifts from Africa. He doesn’t hesitate to point out when he notices that Beneatha is slowly assimilating to white ways. For instance, when she straightens her hair, he terms that “mutilation.”

Conflict arises when Walter reveals to his family that he wants to use the insurance money to start a business while on the other hand, while Beneatha wants the money for her schooling. Mama just wants the family to get along, but soon things get more complicated when Ruth discovers she’s pregnant with another child. In the midst of racial segregation, the Younger family faces personal demons, all of which require a different approach but at the expense of the $10,000 insurance funds.

As earlier mentioned, A Raising in the Sun was the first play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and also the first play with a black director. With all cast being black, with the exception of one minor character, the play was termed as a risky investment and took more than a year for the produce, Philip Rose, to garner enough money for its launch.

The reception of the play showed a huge disconnect between the black and white cultures in the US. At the same time, both the black and whites celebrated the play, but the reasons were utterly different. In most reviews from whites and recent academic studies, the Younger family was eventually transformed into a middle-class family.

The Younger family is part of the black majority, and the Youngers being referred to as the middle class reflects the essence of the African American people’s will to defeat discrimination, segregation, and oppression. There is no such thing as a white neighborhood except to those submitting to racism.

The Broadway production in March of 1959 featured Sidney Poitier and soon became a hot ticket garnering over 500 performances. A film version of the play was released in 1961, with Hansberry participating in the screenplay writing.

Subsequently, A Raisin in the Sun received four nominations for Tony Awards, and New York Drama Critic’s Circle termed it as the best playmaking by Lorraine Hansberry, the youngest person and the first African American to win the award.

Over the years, Raisin in the Sun has seen success at different levels. It was adapted into a Tony award-winning musical in 1975. It was also adapted for television in 1989with Danny Glover playing Walter and Esther Rolle acting as the Younger family matriarch.

Since then, Hansberry’s play has been revived twice on Broadway. In 2004, it was adapted for TV with Sean Combs playing the role of Walter with Phylicia Rashad making a record as the first black American to win the Best Actress award in a play. The play was again revived for television in 2008 and 2014, with the latter version starring Denzel Washington, who won the Tony’s Award for Best Revival.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Lorraine Hansberry

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