where the writers are
Lorraine Hansberry -- Gone Too Soon
Lorraine Hansberry


Well, I can hardly believe how long it has been since I posted a new blog entry.  The past few months have been very full, with work and with the rewards of work, but I never meant it to preclude me from writing here entirely.  I will try to ease back into a more regular habit of writing now, which should at least be possible while school is out!

The other thing that becomes possible when school is out for the summer is reading-books-that-I'm-neither-teaching-nor-researching!  Oh yeah, oh yeah!!!  The first book of the summer for me was one not chosen from the stacks of half- and un-read books all over my apartment, but -- because I found myself facing a longish flight with nothing to read in my bag -- selected quickly from the shelves of an airport bookstore.  Imagine my delight and surprise when I saw Lorraine Hansberry's "informal autobiography" among the "urban fiction" titles in the African American lit section!  (Yes, I was in the ATL.)   : )

If Hansberry's name doesn't ring a bell for you, maybe you've heard of her most famous play: A Raisin in the Sun.  It went up on Broadway when she was only 29 years old, which was instantly history, as she was the first African American woman to have a Broadway show.  (Yes, in 1959 -- the first.)  It went on to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play -- and she was the youngest American playwright ever to win this award and only the 5th woman to do so.  Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, and Diana Sands starred in it, playing a family on the South Side of Chicago whose various dreams included entrepreneurship, med school, and owning a house.  Their struggle to reconcile and achieve these dreams, working together in the face of a society actively seeking to exclude them, makes up the drama of the play, which moves me to tears just reading it.  Imagine seeing it performed!  (Actually, don't imagine it -- rent one of the two film versions!)  Oh -- and if the title of her play doesn't ring a bell as a play, it may be that you're thinking of the source of this well-known phrase.

So the book I bought, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, offers a window onto Hansberry's life in her own words: through excerpts from her letters, interviews, speeches, and journals, interspliced with scenes from her plays.  What a vibrant, intellectual, complicated, and talented person she was!  I wish the title of this blog post was an indication that she only made her transition recently, but in fact, she was gone before I was born, at the young age of 34, with -- one imagines -- an amazing life's work still ahead of her.  After reading the book, I am filled with a great sense of the loss of those years, those writings-to-be.  I feel akin to the writer I get a picture of in those pages...  I should say that, as a story of Hansberry's life, this book leaves a lot to be desired.  It was compiled posthumously, as far as I can gather, by her collaborator and ex-husband, who excised most of her personal life from this publication.  But as a snapshot -- or, say, a gallery of snapshots -- of who she was as a writer, her process, her aesthetics, her worldview, this book is phenomenal.  She lives and breathes in every one of her sentences...


P.S. One more note on titles: if her "autobiography" title sounds familiar to you, but not as a book, you may be thinking of this (or this), which was inspired by Hansberry's life and words.  : )