The Playwright: Lorraine Hansberry
Born: May 19th, 1930
Died: January 12th, 1965
As indicated in the dates above, Lorraine Hansberry passed away at the very young age of 34. Yet, before she was taken by cancer, she left a lasting impression on the theatrical and literary world.
Her best known play, A Raisin in the Sun, arrived on Broadway in 1959, making Hansberry the first African-American woman to have her work performed on the "Great White Way." Currently, she is the only African-American playwright to win the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
Thanks to her break-through drama, the doors were opened for other African-American writers. Read more about Lorraine Hansberry's literary career.
The Story of A Raisin in the Sun:
Set in the "self-segregated" world of 1950s Chicago, Hansberry's play centers on an African-American family, the Youngers. After the demise of the patriarchal Mr. Younger, the arrival of a $10,000 insurance check has the entire family debating what to do with the money.
- Mama wants to fulfill her and Mr. Younger's lifelong dream of owning a house.
- Her headstrong son, Walter Lee, believes they should invest the money in a liquor store.
- Walter Lee's wife, Ruth, longs to live in a home with more space and more opportunities for her adolescent son, Travis.
- The intelligent and often defiant daughter, Beneatha, wants to use the money to attend medical school and perhaps become a doctor.
Throughout the play, they discuss the different possibilities, as well as their hopes and fears for the future. When Mama chooses to put a down payment on a house in an all white community, a soon-to-be neighbor visits the Younger household. In an act of ignorance and "subconscious" racism, he and the rest of the white home owners association offer the family money if they would be willing to move out of the community. The Youngers must then decide: do they stay or go?
Origin of the Play:
Hansberry grew up in Illinois, living in places similar to setting of A Raisin in the Sun. Her father, Carl Hansberry, moved the family to a white suburban community, whereupon the Caucasian neighbors began harassing, threatening, and eventually assaulting the Hansberry family.
Ultimately, the playwright's father sued the discriminating neighbors. The case was brought before the Supreme Court. Carl Hansberry won the case, but unfortunately residential segregation continued to exist in the Chicago area.
Lorraine Hansberry translated many of the inspiring events to the stage, creatively supporting the civil rights movement. Discover more about the playwright's experiences.
Original 1959 Broadway Cast:
Sidney Poitier - Walter Lee Younger
Claudia McNeil - Lena Younger
Ruby Dee - Ruth Younger
Diana Sands - Beneatha Younger
Ivan Dixon - Joseph Asagai
Glynn Turman - Travis Younger
Ed Hall - Moving Man
Douglas Turner Ward - Moving Man
Louis Gossett Jr. (as Louis Gossett) - George Murchison
Lonne Elder III - Bobo
John Fiedler - Karl Lindner
2004 Revival Broadway Cast:
Phylicia Rashad - Lena Younger
Sean Combs - Walter Lee Younger
Sanaa Lathan - Beneatha Younger
Justin Martin - Travis Younger
John Stamos - Carl Lindner
Sean Patrick Thomas - George
David Oyelowo - Joseph Asagai
Bill Nunn - Bobo
2008 Television Film:
Directed by Kenny Leon, the latest incarnation of A Raisin in the Sun stars the 2004 Broadway cast, including famed singer-turned-actor Sean Combs. A Raisin in the Sun was the first television movie to ever premiere at the Sundance Film festival.
Airdate: February 25th 2008