Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)

Lorraine Hansberry

Playwright, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born in 1930 into a politically active and well-connected African-American family in Chicago. She would die 34 years later of cancer in New York City. In between those years, Hansberry filled her short life with art and activism.

After attending the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for two years, she moved to New York, where she attended the New School of Social Research. Hansberry wrote essays and reviews for Freedom, a magazine started by Paul Robeson, the famous black singer and activist, and became a sought-after public speaker. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish writer who also became her producer.

In 1957, she completed A Raisin in the Sun, a play about a poor black family in Chicago whose move into a resistant all-white neighborhood mirrored her own family's experience. Raisin opened on Broadway in 1959 to instant acclaim and won Hansberry the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The New York Times wrote it was "the play that changed American theatre forever."

In 1963, while she was working on The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window as well as another play, Les Blancs, she was diagnosed with cancer. Sign opened on October 15, 1964, and closed shortly after her death on January 12, 1965.

Other plays: A Raisin in the Sun (OSF, 2004), Les Blancs (1998), The Drinking Gourd, Of What Use Are Flowers?, To Be Young, Gifted and Black.

Awards: A Raisin in the Sun was the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway, and Hansberry was the first black and the youngest person to win a New York Drama Critics Circle Award.