By Darcel Rockett
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Author Imani Perry was exposed to Lorraine Hansberry’s work at a young age; as Perry grew, so did her admiration of Hansberry, which is why, Perry said, she wrote her new book, “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry.”
When Chicago native Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” premiered on Broadway in March 1959, Hansberry received “what one critic called a tremendous personal ovation when audience and cast called her to the stage for repeated curtain calls,” the Tribune reported at the time.
Hansberry was just 28 when she became the first black woman to have a play produced on Broadway. “A Raisin in the Sun,” which centers on one black American family living on the South Side of Chicago, was immediately hailed by The New York Times as having “vigor as well as veracity,” further arguing that it was “likely to destroy the complacency of anyone who sees it.”
Imani Perry, a Philadelphia resident and Princeton University’s Hughes-Rogers professor of African-American studies, considers Hansberry her muse.
As a child who spent her summers in Chicago, Perry was exposed to the playwright’s work at a young age; as Perry grew, so did her admiration of Hansberry, which is why, Perry said, she wrote her new book, “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry.”
“She’s really interesting because she’s such a singular figure: the most widely read black woman playwright in American history, the most widely produced black woman playwright in American history,” Perry said. “She lived a short life, but was extraordinarily accomplished and there’s relatively little that has been written about her in comparison to her contemporaries and closest friends, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone.
“She was the product of (a) variety of communities, black Chicago, the Greenwich Village crowd, she’s this person who really pulled together so many identities and experiences, and I think through her we can understand (not only) so much about 20th-century American history, but also … the pressing social issues of today.”