Lorraine Hansberry 1930–1965
During her short career Hansberry seemed destined to become an important force in American theater. With the success in 1959 of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry became the first black woman to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best American play. This, her first play, was also the first by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. It told the story of a black family living on Chicago's South Side, struggling to hold together and to get ahead in a forbidding world. Although a few critics charged her with sentimentality, the sincerity and realism of her perceptions along with her effective use of staging earned the play much acclaim. The film version, adapted by Hansberry, was not as well-received critically, although it was still a popular success.
Her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, closed after 101 performances on the day Hansberry died. Among her unpublished papers, however, she left a few partially finished plays. Some of this material has been edited and revised by her ex-husband and literary executor, Robert Nemiroff, Les Blancs being the most notable of these plays. He also produced the pastiche of her plays, letters, and journal entries called To Be Young, Gifted and Black. All her works are revived in their original form on occassion; they and their adaptations continue to please audiences. Most recently, A Raisin in the Sun became the highly successful musical Raisin. Due to their unfinished state at Hansberry's death, perhaps, none of the posthumous works has the same coherence and drive of her early work. However, her plays are often acknowledged for their expressive, compassionate view of people who transcend the limitations of their lives. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)