As we prepare for the release of N. Scott Momaday: Word From a Bear at the end of the month, we’re sharing a collection of documentaries about your favorite American Masters writers. Watch the epic tale of Broadway’s first black, female playwright in Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart and learn how her upbringing led her to pen her masterpiece. Philip Roth: Unmasked examines the life of the celebrated American novelist with unprecedented access to the notoriously reclusive writer. If you missed Denis O’Hare’s gripping performance in Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive, there are still a few weeks left to catch this story of a Gothic icon.
On March 11, 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway and changed the face of American theater forever. As the first-ever black woman to author a play performed on Broadway, she did not shy away from richly drawn characters and unprecedented subject matter. The play attracted record crowds and earned the coveted top prize from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. While the play is seen as a groundbreaking work of art, the timely story of Hansberry’s life is far less known. Narrated by acclaimed actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson (The Fighting Temptations, A Raisin in the Sun) and featuring the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose (A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls) as Hansberry, the documentary portrays the writer’s lifetime commitment to fighting injustice and how she found her way to art—the theater—as her medium for activism at a crucial time for black civil rights. Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart also explores her concealed identity as a lesbian and the themes of sexual orientation and societal norms in her works. The film title comes from Hansberry’s view that “one cannot live with sighted eyes and feeling heart and not know or react to the miseries which afflict this world.”
After his death, writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) became a global icon of modern literature and a pop culture brand. Best known for his Gothic horror tales and narrative poem “The Raven,” Poe’s stories are the basis of countless films and TV episodes, and have inspired even more, as has his name and image. At least four American cities claim this literary legend as their own – Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia and New York: an NFL football team is named after one of his poems, and his image appears on everything from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover to lunchboxes, bobbleheads and socks. Creating the detective fiction genre with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), Poe wrote over 100 short stories and poems altogether, beginning with Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), his first published work.