Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. Hansberry’s father was a successful real estate broker, and her mother was a schoolteacher. Her par-ents contributed large sums of money to the NAACP and the Urban League. In 1938, Hansberry’s family moved to a white neighborhood and was violently attacked by neighbors. They refused to move until a court ordered them to do so, and the case made it to the Supreme Court as Hansberry v. Lee, ruling restrictive covenants illegal.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison. While at school, she changed her major from painting to writing, and after two years decided to drop out and move to New York City.
In New York, Hansberry attended the New School for Social Research and then worked for Paul Robeson’s progressive black newspaper, Freedom, as a writer and associate edi-tor from 1950 to 1953. She also worked part-time as a waitress and cashier, and wrote in her spare time. By 1956, Hansberry quit her jobs and committed her time to writing. In 1957, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed letters to their magazine, The Ladder, about feminism and homophobia. Her lesbian identity was exposed in the arti-cles, but she wrote under her initials, L.H., for fear of discrimination.
Hansberry wrote The Crystal Stair, a play about a struggling black family in Chicago, which was later renamed A Raisin in the Sun, a line from a Langston Hughes poem. The play opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959, and was a great success, having a run of 530 performances. It was the first play produced on Broadway by an African-American woman, and Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. The film version of A Rai-sin in the Sun was completed in 1961, starring Sidney Poitier, and received an award at the Cannes Film Festival. Like others we’ve discussed, Hansberry was also active in the Civil Rights movement
Hansberry met Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish songwriter, on a picket line, and the two were married in 1953. Hansberry and Nemiroff divorced in 1962, though they continued to work together. In 1964, Hansberry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died on January 12, 1965. After her death, Nemiroff adapted a collection of her writing and in-terviews in To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which opened off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre and ran for eight months.