Mirror, Mirror: The American Family in the Twentieth Century

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965 )

A Raisin in the Sun


  • Born on the south side of Chicago in 1930 to a middle class black family; her father, Carl Hansberry, a successful banker and real estate broker, her uncle, a Harvard professor of African history.
  • In 1938, family challenged Chicago's segregation laws by moving into an all-white neighborhood; evicted from their home, but case eventually won in Illinois Supreme Court.
  • Family visitors during teen years included Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Dubois, Duke Ellington, and Paul Robeson; eventually became deeply involved in social and political movements.
  • Studied painting at the Chicago Art Institute, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Guadalajara (Mexico);
  • Moved to New York in 1950; attended the New School for Social Research, worked at odd jobs, and turned from painting to writing. Was a reporter and editor for progresssive black newspaper, Freedom, 1950-53.
  • Married song-writer and publisher Robert Nemiroff in 1953; divorced Nemiroff in 1964, but continued to collaborate with him on writing.
  • Died of cancer in January 1965 at the age of 34.


  • A Raisin in the Sun, the first play by a Black woman produced on Broadway; ran for 530 performances in 1959, received the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.
  • Wrote screenplay of A Raisin in the Sun for movie of same name; won special award for screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival (1961).
  • Second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, less successful on Broadway.

Major Writings

A Raisin in the Sun (play), 1959; (screenplay), 1960.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, 1964.
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (play based on her life and work, adapted by Robert Nemiroff), 1969.
Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays of Lorraine Hansberry, [includes teleplays The Drinking Gourd  and What Use are Flowers?] ed. by Robert Nemiroff, 1972.

Critical Sources and Reviews

A tremendous amount of biographical and critical material on Hansberry exists, both in print and online. The selection below attempts to pinpoint some of the most easily accessible sources.

  • Biographical and critical information in the following Gale publications: Contemporary Authors, Volumes 25-28, and 109, Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volume 58, and Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volumes 17 and 62.  Gale Literary Database (Contemporary Authors Online and Contemporary Literary Criticism Online) can be accessed through a subscribing library at www.galenet.com.
  • Other Gale publications that include Hansberry materials include Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 7: Twentieth Century American Dramatists, and Volume 38: African American Writers After 1055--Dramatists and Prose Writers; Drama Criticism, Volume 2; Authors in the News. Volume 2; Black Literature Criticism, 3 vols.; Black Writers; Contemporary Black Biography; Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 22; Major Twentieth-Century Writers. 4 vols.,  Black and White, 2 vols.
  • Some books and reviews:
    • New York Times, March 8, 1959, March 12, 1959, April 9, 1959, January 13, 1965.
    • Freedomways 19, no. 4, 1979 [Special issue devoted to Hansberry]
    • Commentary, June 1959.
    • New Republic, June 9, 1959.
    • Newsweek, January 25, 1965.
    • New Yorker, May 9, 1959.
    • New York Post, March 22, 1959.
    • Obituaries on File, compiled by Felice Levy, 2 vols. 1979.
    • Carter, Steven R. Hansberry's Drama: Commitment Amid Complexity, 1991.
    • Cheney, Anne, Lorraine Hansberry, 1984, pp. 55-71.
    • Feminist Writers, ed. Pamela Kester-Shelton, St. James Press, 1996.
    • MCKissack, Patricia C. and Frederick L. Young, Black, and Determined: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry, 1997
    • Scheader, Catherine. Lorraine Hansberry: Playwright and Voice of Justice, 1998.
    • Tripp, Janet. Lorraine Hansberry, 1998.

Retired Discussion Series

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