Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  IDENTITY

Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun: Chicago Tale Airs Nationally
by Marie J. Kuda
2008-03-01

This article shared 6517 times since Sat Mar 1, 2008
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


In the almost 50 years since her play opened in Chicago at the Blackstone Theatre on Feb. 10, 1959, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun has remained plump and pertinent. The first television version of her award-winning play will air Feb. 25, reprising most of the cast from Kenny Leon's 2004 Broadway revival, including Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs and Phylicia Rashad. The 1959 version starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Ivan Dixon was the first play by an African-American woman on Broadway and garnered the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play of the Year.

A Raisin in the Sun was chosen in 2003 for the One Book, One Chicago reading program and has been performed almost constantly throughout the area in recent years. Goodman Theatre had revivals in 1983 and 2000. Still controversial in 2006, Oak Park and River Forest High School was up in arms over how to maintain the community's commitment to equality and diversity while presenting 'Raisin,' an all-Black play. Some parents demanded 'color-blind casting.' Director Ellen Boyer was quoted as saying, 'You simply can't have whites in these roles. In order to be universal, you have to get specific.'

Hansberry, who died of pancreatic cancer in New York City at age 35, was a native Chicagoan who attended Englewood High School and the Art Institute of Chicago. She then spent two years at the University of Wisconsin before deciding to become a writer. Born in 1930, she was the fourth child of Nannie Perry and Carl Hansberry, a realtor who challenged a restrictive housing covenant ( that prevented Blacks from moving into the Washington Park-Kenwood neighborhood ) all the way to a unanimous victory in the United States Supreme Court.

Hansberry moved to New York in 1950 and began writing for Paul Robeson's legendary 'Freedom' newspaper. In 1957, she joined the first national lesbian rights organization, the Daughters of Bilitis ( DOB ) , identifying herself as a 'heterosexually married lesbian'. In 1954, she married Robert Nemiroff ( whose family owned Potpourri, a restaurant in the Village where Hansberry had worked waiting tables ) . They separated in 1957 and divorced in 1964—months before her death. He would become her literary executor and would compile 'To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words,' published with an introduction by James Baldwin.

In 1958 DOB founders Martin and Lyon on the final leg of a promotional/organizational trip cross-country, visited Hansberry in New York. According to Marcia Gallo in her history of DOB 'Different Daughters' ( 2006 ) , in their eagerness to meet a real celebrity, they woke the 'smart, pretty and gracious' playwright at 7 AM. Hansberry found time for them even though she was busily readying 'Raisin' for its Broadway opening. She expressed regret at not being able to 'get more involved' with DOB.

In the years following the production of 'Raisin,' Hansberry would move in a circle of other closeted lesbians who shared a sub-rosa social life in Greenwich Village. Novelist Marijane Meaker ( who wrote lesbian pulp fiction as Vin Packer & Ann Aldrich and children's books as M. E. Kerr ) noted in her 2003 memoir that she knew Hansberry, her lover, and her gay friends. Hansberry invited Meaker ( who had a tumultuous relationship with modernist writer Patricia Highsmith during that period ) to a pre-release screening of the 1961 Sidney Poitier film version of 'Raisin'. The movie took a special award at the Cannes Film Festival.

A respected Chicago attorney and one of the founders of CORE, Jewel LaFontant, knew the Hansberry family in the 1930s. She was four years older than Lorraine and a friend of her sister Mamie. LaFontant recollects ( in 'An Autobiography of Black Chicago' by Dempsey Travis ) being in the front room of the Hansberry's apartment at 61st and Rhodes when bricks came flying through the window. Her father, attorney C. Francis Stradford, would represent the Hansberrys in their case against restrictive covenants in the Washington Park area throughout the courts. LaFontant evinced shock that Lorraine 'turned out to be a brilliant playwright'. She remembered her as 'spoiled' and 'born to affluence'; her other siblings could remember being poor, but by Lorraine's time the family had a chauffer, fur coats and cars. She also remembered that Lorraine had wanted to be a doctor. 'A Raisin in the Sun' deals with the similar housing issues, and the character of the daughter, Beneatha, wants to go to medical school and become a doctor.

Truman K. Gibson, Jr., in an article excerpted in Chicago History magazine from his book 'Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America,' recounts being a junior member of the team of attorneys that represented Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company ( the oldest Black-owned insurance company in Chicago and property developers in Washington Park ) , who joined the Hansberry case and underwrote the considerable expenses of pursuing the appellate process through the courts. According to Gibson, financial backing for the opposing white homeowners came from the University of Chicago.

Gibson suggests other possible influences on the play were Carl Hansberry's failed investment in a dubious downstate Illinois oil-drilling venture ( perhaps a harbinger for Walter Lee's failed liquor store scam ) , and a 'business matter' in which Hansberry was his client in a deal echoing that of the matriarch in the play inheriting $10,000 upon the death of her husband.

The Supreme Court ruling in Hansberry v. Lee, 311 US 32 ( 1940 ) , ignored the issue raised regarding the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment and ruled instead on two other limited issues involved in the pleading—nonetheless, according to Gibson, 'The decision had an immediate and profound impact, igniting one of the first waves of the white flight phenomenon that was to plague Chicago and other urban centers for decades to come.'

Hansberry authored other plays and was an activist ( as Diana Marre writes in 'Notable Black American Women' ) who 'linked the struggle for gay rights, rights of people of color, and rights for women long before such terms as homophobia and feminism came into the vernacular.' In 1963, at the height of the civil-rights struggle, James Baldwin was invited by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy to a meeting to discuss race relations. Baldwin brought with him Hansberry and several other prominent African Americans who tried to communicate their fears that, unless things changed in America, 'the fire next time' would be deadly. Hansberry is reported to have said: 'you and your brother [ JFK ] are representatives of the best that a white America can offer; and if you are insensitive to this, then there is no alternative except our going to the streets . . .' Hansberry did not live to see the fires of Detroit, Chicago's West Side or Watts; if she had, we could only speculate on what more her legacy would have become.

In 1999, Lorraine Hansberry was inducted into the City of Chicago's Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame.

Copyright 2008 Marie J. Kuda.


This article shared 6517 times since Sat Mar 1, 2008
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Moises Kaufman takes audiences to Paradise 2021-12-03
- Paradise Square is a new musical that opened in Chicago last month at the James M. Nederlander Theatre. This is based on a true story set in New York City in 1863, when Black and Irish immigrants lived together in a ...


Gay News

Hell in a Handbag Productions to present Christmas Dearest Nov. 27-Dec. 31 2021-12-03
--From a press release - CHICAGO (December 2, 2021) — Hell in a Handbag Productions is pleased to continue its 20th anniversary season with the return of one of its most popular holiday musicals: Christmas Dearest, featuring book and lyrics by ...


Gay News

Director Paris Barclay talks about virtual reading of 'The Normal Heart' 2021-12-01
- The seminal Larry Kramer play The Normal Heart—which focuses on the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City in the early 1980s, through the perspective of the character Ned Weeks—is the subject of a ...


Gay News

THEATER 'It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!' through Dec. 31 2021-11-30
- American Blues Theater marks its return to live, in-person theater with its 20th annual production of It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, from Frank Capra's film. The production will run through Friday, Dec. 31, at ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Wicked' returning to Chicago in 2022 2021-11-30
- The blockbuster musical Wicked will return to Broadway In Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., on Sept. 28-Dec. 4, 2022. Now the fifth longest-running show in Broadway history—and featuring songs such as "Popular" ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Who's Holiday!' running through Dec. 26 2021-11-29
- Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont St., is running the Chicago premiere of Who's Holiday!—a production about a booze-guzzling, cigarette-smoking, adult Cindy Lou Who reminiscing about the night she first met The Grinch. The show is being ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Lighthouses in the Desert 2021-11-27
- Title: Lighthouses in the Desert. Playwright: Richard James Zieman At: Schwartz Stage at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: $25; GlassAppleTheatre.com. Runs through: Dec. 19 Nowadays, the term "one-act play" can be applied to nearly ...


Gay News

Broadway titan Stephen Sondheim dies at 91 2021-11-27
- Stephen Sondheim, one of the giants of Broadway songwriting, died Nov. 26 at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, according to media reports. He was 91. Among the works in the legend's oeuvre are Company (1970), Follies ...


Gay News

Virtual reading, Q&A of 'The Normal Heart' with mostly LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC cast on Dec. 4 2021-11-26
- ONE Archives Foundation, in collaboration with Invisible Histories Project, announced today that a brand-new Q&A will follow an encore and final presentation of the historic virtual reading of Larry Kramer's Tony-winning play The Normal Heart. The ...


Gay News

Goodman Theatre's 'A Christmas Carol' running through Dec. 31 2021-11-25
- Now in its 44th year, Goodman Theatre's classic production of A Christmas Carol is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge's discovery of kindness, compassion and redemption. Director Jessica Thebus co-adapted and helmed the 2020 audio streaming version, ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Q Brothers Christmas Carol' Dec. 7-23 2021-11-24
- The 80-minute hip-hop holiday hit Q Brothers Christmas Carol—created by Chicago sensations the Q Brothers Collective (GQ, JQ, Jax and Pos) and developed with Creative Producer Rick Boynton—is back in a limited engagement in The Yard ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Bug 2021-11-21
- Title: Bug. Playwright: Tracy Letts At: Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets: $20-$110; Steppenwolf.org. Runs through: Dec. 12 When you hear the word "bug," do you think of an insect, a microbe or a ...


Gay News

Legendary costume designer accused of sexual harassment, abuse 2021-11-20
- Legendary costume designer and six-time Tony winner William Ivey Long—a onetime head of the American Theatre Wing, which gives out the Tony Awards—has been accused of sexual harassment and abuse by two different men, according to ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Cinderella' at Paramount through Jan. 9 2021-11-20
- Aurora's Paramount Theatre is presenting Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella through Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. According to a press release, "Paramount's Cinderella promises to come with all of the spectacle and splendor audiences have come to ex ...


Gay News

MOVIES 'Dante and Beatrice in Florence' Nov. 28-Dec. 5 2021-11-19
- Porchlight Music Theatre is partnering with Hershey Felder Presents: Live from Florence and its second season of productions. The launch of this new season from Hershey Felder is the new musical film Dante and Beatrice in ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.