Lorraine Hansberry was born on the 19th of May 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up as most black women did at the time and “was the granddaughter of a former slave” (Lee). At fifteen, “her father died” (Lee) which she believed was a result of “the toll of American racism” (Lee) and was inspired by these events to get involved in activism. Hansberry went to college “at the University of Wisconsin-Madison” where she “fought for integrated dormitories” (Lee).
After two years of University, she soon continued “to pursue the kind of education you can only get from standing on picket lines for civil rights” (Lee). Throughout her avid protests, she studied African history and soon met her future husband Robert Nemiroff who was “a white Jewish boy, composer” who shared her “kindred spirit” (Lee). Although their marriage did not last because “Lorraine was a lesbian” (Lee) they continued to work together in activism and the arts. Alongside black rights, Hansberry was also a massive LGBTQ activist and wrote letters to a “subscription-based lesbian magazine” (Lee) about her struggle with her sexuality throughout her life and marriage. Before either of them were successful, Hansberry worked as a cashier and waitress during the day and wrote at night “until her husband wrote a hit song” (Lee) which then allowed her to write full time.
Throughout this time, Hansberry wrote The Crystal Stair which she later changed to a A Raisin in the Sun which is a famous play about the struggles of an African American family that opened on Broadway. It was “the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on the Great White Way” (Lee). She then became the youngest and first black playwright to win “a New York Drama Critics’ Circle award” (Lee). Her success was short lived however as Hansberry’s “life was cut tragically short by pancreatic cancer” (Lee). Hansberry was eulogised by Martin Luther King Jr. himself at her funeral for her work and her ex-husband continued to produce her works long after her death including a memoir title To Be Young, Gifted and Black, that later inspired a Nina Simone song.
Lee, Mackenzi, and Petra Eriksson. Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World. Abrams Image, 2018.