Thursday, May 19, 2016

REDUX: Black Lesbian Playwright and Activist Lorraine Hansberry

This is a re-post from 3 years ago--commemorating the birth of one of our great American writers and thinkers--the late, great Lorraine Hansberry.

I want to acknowledge the life and legacy of black lesbian playwright and activist Lorraine Hansberry, who was born on May 19, 1930. She died of cancer in 1965 at the age of 34, but left a lasting legacy in the form of her artistic contributions as well as her political writings (too many to name here). To start your immersion into Hansberry's aesthetic, I would suggest that, in addition to reading the original play of A Raisin in the Sun and watching the 1961 film version (the classic and superior version), you look at To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, the posthumously released collection of writings that was turned into a play and film, respectively.  

Required reading would be the essay written by her dear friend, James Baldwin, titled "Sweet Lorraine." I have a copy of the film, which was directed by Michael Schultz for WNET Playhouse back in 1972 and which stars Ruby Dee, Blythe Danner, Al Freeman, Jr. (who died just last year) Lauren Jones, and Barbara Barrie. The film is a sort of bricolage of all of Hansberry's writings, with her character being read by all the actors, irrespective of race, gender, and sexual orientation. It was the kind of experimental work that was being done by WNET in the early days of public television. Finally, I invite you also to watch Nina Simone performing "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" (the song she and Weldon Irvine wrote as a tribute to Lorraine) at the Harlem Cultural Festival (known as the "Black Woodstock") in 1969.

Also born on this day was Malcolm X (1925), who also died prematurely (at the hands of assassins) in 1965 (aged 39). It is difficult the imagine losing two great black intellects in the same year (just a month apart), but we have their respective legacies. We can ignore them at our own peril. 

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