Critical Context

When A Raisin in the Sun received the 1959 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best Play of the Year, Hansberry was only twenty-nine years old and was the youngest American playwright, the fifth woman, and the first African-American writer ever to win that award. This biography with its subsequent theatrical presentations, added to Hansberry’s importance in young adult literature. In addition, a musical version of her play, called Raisin, is performed in high schools across the United States.

Hansberry argued that all humankind must be free before any one individual is free at a time when nationalism was flourishing. Her literary and political efforts were directed by her belief that the African-American experience its clear evidence that racism is what retards the true glory of humankind. Her prediction of African revolutionary movements preceded those that occurred in the 1960’s and 1970’s. She was friends with many of the leaders of the African-American civil rights movement, at one time substituting for Martin Luther King, Jr., at a conference.

After Hansberry’s death, Nemiroff’s life was dedicated to keeping her work alive and to making her contribution accessible to new generations of readers. This unusual biography artistically combines the languages of theater, personal expression, and oratory. Without To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, it is conceivable that many young adults would never know her other works, the significance of A Raisin in the Sun, or the many dimensions of Hansberry.