Into the Light: The Legacy of Lorraine Hansberry.

Date01 August 2018
AuthorStockwell, Norman

For a while, the name Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) had faded from the mainstream. But in her brief life, she made a major mark on African American culture, particularly in theater, most notably through her award-winning 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun. A recent resurgence of interest in Hansberry seeks to acknowledge that legacy. Earlier this year, PBS's American Masters series aired a new documentary, Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, and now a new biography brings many details of her life to new audiences.

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry (release date September 18) is a work of scholarship and love. "I think she has something to teach us," Perry writes in the introduction. "The portrait here is, then, as much homage to her as it is gift to myself, and to you. That we might see the stuff of our lives in hers. So much has yet to be done and she can help us do it."

Perry is the Hughes-Rogers professor of African American Studies and a faculty associate in the Program in Law and Public Affairs and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University. An energetic writer, she has three books coming out this year. May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem was published in February. Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation, which takes on patriarchy in the digital age, will be published in September, the same month as her biography of Hansberry

It is, Perry notes as she introduces the book, "not a traditional biography."

"In my hands," she writes, "the narrative comes from the sketches, snatches, and masterpieces she left behind; the scrawled-upon pages, published plays, and memories: her own and others from people who witnessed and marveled at, and even some of those who resented, her genius."

Besides reading Hansberry's writing and personal papers, most of which are collected at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Perry also conducted her own interviews and research, and visited some of the landmarks of Hansberry's life, including her grave.

Hansberry grew up on Chicago's South Side. Her father was an entrepreneur who subdivided older housing stock to create apartments for Chicago's growing African American population at a time when restrictive real estate laws kept blacks out of many of the city's neighborhoods.

"Lorraine, though a bookish and interior child," writes Perry, "was always part of the throng of children...

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