Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart

Biography

Born in 1930, Lorraine Hansberry was a woman of many “firsts.” She was the first African-American woman to live in her residence hall, Langdon Manor, at the University of Wisconsin in 1948. She was also the first female African-American playwright to have her work performed on Broadway.

Published and performed for the first time in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play directed by an African-American, Lloyd Richards, to be performed on Broadway. Originally titled The Crystal Stair (taken from Langston Hughes’s poem “Mother to Son”), it was also the first play with a nearly all African-American cast to be performed on Broadway.

It took Lorraine Hansberry about a year to write A Raisin in the Sun. She wrote it between her 26th and 27th birthdays. The play had three out-of-town previews, playing in New Haven, Philadelphia and Chicago. With 147 individual initial investors, A Raisin in the Sun experienced incredible success, and at the time, it was the longest-running Broadway play by an African-American author. The original production ran for 530 performances – 198 with Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee Younger and 332 with Ossie Davis in the role. Today, A Raisin in the Sun has been translated into about 35 languages.

Hansberry was the first African-American playwright and also the youngest playwright to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play. Her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, was the longest-running Broadway show of its season due to the unique efforts of Robert Nemiroff to keep the play open.

Despite her resounding impact on the theater world and her legacy of activism and civil rights, Lorraine Hansberry led a short life. Diagnosed with cancer at an early age, Hansberry died at the age of 34.


Funding for Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ford Foundation/JustFilms, National Endowment for the Arts, LEF Foundation, Peter G. Peterson & Joan Ganz Cooney Fund.