In the late 1950s, when Lorraine Hansberry wrote this play, it was almost unheard of for a mainstream, commercial play to feature all black characters. The only white person in A Raisin in the Sun, Karl Lindner , is a very minor (though important) character. Most Broadway and...
In the late 1950s, when Lorraine Hansberry wrote this play, it was almost unheard of for a mainstream, commercial play to feature all black characters. The only white person in A Raisin in the Sun, Karl Lindner, is a very minor (though important) character. Most Broadway and off-Broadway plays for white audiences had all white characters, or, if they included African Americans, those characters were likely to play small roles, such as servants. Furthermore, the kinds of challenges that the Youngers face—such as the difficulty of becoming a business owner and the reality of segregated housing—had never been presented in the mainstream theater.
Hansberry has written of the experiences that her own family faced in moving to a formerly segregated neighborhood. She drew on these experiences in creating the complicated situation in which the Youngers are involved. When she wrote the play, she was not convinced that it would ever be produced. When she finished the first draft, she thought, “I had no reason to think or not think would ever be done; a play that I was sure no one would quite understand."
A highly unusual combination of circumstances led both to its original production and its rapid move to New York. As Robert Nemiroff (her husband at the time) writes in the Introduction to the published play, it was
the first play by a black (young and unknown) woman, to be directed, moreover, by another unknown black “first,” in a theater were black audiences virtually did not exist—and where, in the entire history of the American stage, there had never been a serious commercially successful black drama! (emphasis in original)
He further notes that during the first attempt to launch the play on Broadway, Phil Rose, the one producer who had committed to the play, spent eighteen months unsuccessfully trying to find a co-producer. Even after David Cogan signed on, "not a single theater owner on the Great White Way would rent to the new production!” That was the reason that the play began tryouts in New Haven, Connecticut. The audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and the critics also raved, so the play was deemed commercially viable and did open on Broadway.