[Editor’s Note: The following post is part of American Masters’ #InspiringWomanPBS campaign, which highlights the powerful, creative, and innovative women in our lives. Visit the Inspiring Woman page to join the campaign and submit the story of a woman who inspires you.]
Lorraine Hansberry was not yet 30 when she completed the manuscript for “A Raisin in the Sun,” a play that went on to premiere on Broadway in 1959 and earn the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award. She was the first Black playwright and the youngest person to win the honor. An activist whose circle of friends included luminaries like James Baldwin, Hansberry leveraged her platform to champion civil rights and other social causes.
Hansberry grew up in a heavily segregated community in Chicago. The racial and economic tensions informed “A Raisin in the Sun,” which follows the Youngers, a working-class family including married couple Ruth and Walter, Walter’s mother, and Walter’s sister Benethea. Masterfully exploring themes such as racism, poverty, and identity in a portrait of one family’s pursuit of the American Dream, Hansberry created a classic work of drama whose lessons still resonate to this day.
Quotes from Act I
“I’m thirty-five years old; I been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room – (very quietly) – and all I got to give him are stories about how rich white people live…” –WALTER
“So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life – now it’s money. I guess the world really do change…” –MAMA
“Sometimes it’s like I can see the future stretched out in front of me – just plain as day. The future, Mama. Hanging over there at the edge of my days. Just waiting for me – a big, looming blank space – full of nothing. Just waiting for me. But it don’t have to be.” –WALTER
“Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is – but he needs something – something I can’t give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena.” –RUTH
Quotes from Act II
“You wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction…a business transaction that’s going to change our lives…” –WALTER
“…Most of the trouble exists because people just don’t sit down and talk to each other…That we don’t try hard enough in this world to understand the other fellow’s problem. The other guy’s point of view.” –LINDNER
Quotes from Act III
“Well – we are dead now. All the talk about dreams and sunlight that goes on in this house. It’s all dead now.” –BENETHEA
“There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.” –MAMA