Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930 - January 12, 1965) was an African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays. Her most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family's legal battle against racially segregated housing laws in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago during her childhood.
Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago, Illinois, Hansberry was the youngest of four children of Carl Augustus Hansberry (a prominent real estate broker) and Nannie Louise Perry, and niece of William Leo Hansberry. She grew up on the south side of Chicago in the Woodlawn neighborhood.
The family then moved into an all-white neighborhood, where they faced racial discrimination. Hansberry attended a predominantly white public school while her parents fought against segregation. Hansberry's father engaged in a legal battle against a racially restrictive covenant that attempted to prohibit African-American families from buying homes in the area. The legal struggle over their move led to the landmark Supreme Court case of Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940). Though victors in the Supreme Court, Hansberry's family was subjected to what Hansberry would later describe as a "hellishly hostile white neighborhood." This experience later inspired her to write her most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but found college to be uninspiring and left in 1950 to pursue her career as a writer in New York City. She worked on the staff of a Black newspaper called Freedom. It was at that time she wrote A Raisin in the Sun. The play was a huge success. It was the first play written by an African-American woman and produced on Broadway. It also received the New York Drama Critics Award making Hansberry the youngest and first African American to receive the Award.
She died on January 12, 1965, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window ran for 99 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died. Her ex-husband Robert Nemiroff became the literary executor for several of her unfinished works. Notably, he adapted many of her writings into the play, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which was the longest-running Off-Broadway play of the 1968-1969 season. It appeared in book form the following year under the title, To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words.
She left behind an unfinished novel and three unfinished plays, the content matter dealing with many types of emotions.
Raisin, a musical based on A Raisin in the Sun, opened in New York in 1973, (Book by Nemiroff, music by Judd Woldin, lyrics by Robert Britten.) winning the Tony Award for Best Musical.