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This Day in History - May 19

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry was born.
Video | May 19, 2017 | By Jonathan Shipley


On this day, in 1930, playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was born. She was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. Her most famous work is A Raisin in the Sun, a play that highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racially segregated Chicago. The Seattle Repertory Theatre recently performed the work. You can read the Encore Arts Program of that performance, here. Seattle's Hansberry Project is named after her. It's an organization dedicated to supporting and presenting the work of black theatre artists.

A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959, starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. It was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Play. The play garnered Hansberry the New York's Drama Critic's Circle Award, making her the first black dramatist, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright (she was all of 29) to do so. James Baldwin said of the play, "I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater. And the reason was that never before, in the entire history of American theater, had so much of the truth of black people's lives been seen on a stage."

Some facts about Lorraine Hansberry:

She worked for the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom, where she worked with the likes of Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois.

Indentified as a lesbian, sexual freedom is an important topic in several of her works.

She wrote two screenplays of A Raisin in the Sun. Both were rejected by Columbia Pictures for being too controversial. 

She died at the age of 34 of pancreatic cancer.

A friend of Nina Simone, she was Simone's daughter's godmother. Simone's song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" is inspired by Hansberry. 

A mini-documentary about her life and work:

From the Broadway revival that starred Denzel Washington:

September 30, 2016 to October 30, 2016
155 Mercer Street
Seattle, WA 98109