Looking for Lorraine The radiant and radical life of Lorraine Hansberry

Imani Perry, 1972-

Book - 2018

"A revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic, yet least understood, Black artists and intellectuals of the twentieth century"--

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BIOGRAPHY/Hansberry, Lorraine
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Boston, Massachusetts : Beacon Press [2018]
Physical Description
237 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 209-218) and index.
Main Author
Imani Perry, 1972- (author)
  • Introduction : Lorraine's time
  • Migration song
  • From heartland to the water's edge
  • The girl who can do everything
  • Bobby
  • Sappho's poetry
  • Raisin
  • The trinity
  • Of the faith of our fathers
  • American radical
  • The view from Chitterling Heights
  • Homegoing
  • Conclusion : retracing, May 2017.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* "She sparked and sparkled," writes Perry of Lorraine Hansberry, who was all of 29 when her best-known work, the Chicago-set play, A Raisin in the Sun, opened on Broadway in 1959. Perry observes, "audiences had never before seen the work of a Black playwright and director, featuring a Black cast with no singing, dancing, or slapstick and a clear social message." In spite of Hansberry's subsequent celebrity, knowledge and understanding of her life and her varied and vital body of work have been superficial at best. Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, seeks to deepen our appreciation in this richly dimensional portrait of a brightly blazing artist, thinker, and activist. Inspired, in part, by Alice Walker's 1975 essay reclaiming the until-then forgotten anthropologist and writer Zora Neale Hurston, Perry does not dwell on the minutiae of traditional biographical coverage of what, when, and where, focusing, instead, on who and why, on inner drama rather than exterior events. Mining writings private and published; collecting memories; tracking the reverberations of Hansberry's personality, words, and actions; and, at times, entering the narrative, Perry illuminates with arresting impact Hansberry's thoughts, feelings, and revolutionary social consciousness. Beginning with Hansberry's discomfort with her prominent Chicago family's conspicuous privileges and high expectations, Perry sets Hansberry's attunement to racial and economic injustice within the larger story of the city's systemic racism. She then charts Hansberry's navigation of a very different environment at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she sensed "that art might enable her to do something meaningful in the world." Her artistic self emerged in concert with her commitment to progressive activism, leading her to Greenwich Village in 1950. There Hansberry worked for Freedom, a newspaper founded by Paul Robeson; studied with W. E. B. Du Bois; embraced communism; came under FBI surveillance; concealed her lesbianism; and married a Jewish leftist, Robert Nemiroff, who supported her writing life and later ensured that her work was preserved.Perry delves into Hansberry's journals, letters, poems, essays, plays, and fiction, including gay stories published under the name Emily Jones. She closely examines Hansberry's crucial friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone. Perry notes that a "combination of play and seriousness was at the core of her personality," while Hansberry was burdened with depression and driven by a "relentless intellectualism." A born political organizer with a richly informed global vision, she was daringly forthright in articulating her radicalism as she fought for genuine equality for black people everywhere. "The human condition was Lorraine's obsession and commitment," Perry writes, and how much more she would have accomplished had cancer not cruelly shortened her life. A captivating, independent, many-faceted, far-ahead-of-her-time writer and freedom fighter, Hansberry died at age 34 in 1965. Perry's ardent, expert, and redefining work of biographical discovery brings light, warmth, scope, and enlightening complexity to the spine-straightening story of a brilliant, courageous, seminal, and essential American writer. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Perry (Ctr. for African American Studies, Princeton Univ.; Prophets of the Hood) writes the first adult biography of playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930–65), arguing that although her play, A Raisin in the Sun, is well known, the details of her personal life have been largely obscured owing to her sexuality and radicalism. The daughter of a Chicago real estate developer, Hansberry was not a stellar student but excelled in the arts and creative writing. After moving to New York, she worked under the tutelage of W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, researching and writing on black life in the United States and Africa. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, who was Jewish, but continued to have affairs with women. Perry details the development of A Raisin in the Sun and both the popularity and misinterpretation of the play at the time. She also explores Hansberry's lesser-known works, her relationships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone, and her involvement in the civil rights movement. Perry believes that she would have gone on to even more acclaim had she not died of cancer at age 34. VERDICT A must-read for fans of black and queer history, literary biography, and women's history.—Kate Stewart, Arizona Historical Soc., Tuscon Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Perry (May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem) explores the art and life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun, about the struggles of an African-American family in mid-century inner-city Chicago, and died at the age of 34 in 1965. "She was one of those great artists whose life rode the wave of some of the most pivotal and complex moments in American history," Perry writes. "World War II, McCarthyism, civil rights. Lorraine was right in the thick of it, trying to make sense of it all." Perry also details Hansberry's activities as a socialist; writes with curiosity and empathy about her complex personal life, including her marriage to a white man, Robert Nemiroff, and her romances with women; and examines the influences upon her of her college-educated parents and mentors, friends such as James Baldwin and Nina Simone, and fellow writers such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Insightful literary analyses of Hansberry's writings fit alongside annotations of excerpts from her diaries and admiring and affectionate declarations about her. This book, "less a biography than a genre yet to be named—maybe third-person memoir?", is an unusual and exceptional encomium to a brilliant writer and thinker. (Sept.) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Presents a revealing portrait of the playwright and activist, best known for writing "A Raisin In The Sun," focusing on how she used her prominence to support the civil rights movement and confront the romantic racism of the Beat generation.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic, yet least understood, Black intellectuals of the 20th century traces the extraordinary life of Lorraine Hansberry, a force of nature who died at age 34 and is known primarily for her work, “A Raisin in the Sun”.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Winner of the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for BiographyWinner of the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ NonfictionWinner of the Shilts-Grahn Triangle Award for Lesbian NonfictionWinner of the 2019 Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss AwardA New York Times Notable Book of 2018A revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic, yet least understood, Black artists and intellectuals of the twentieth century.Lorraine Hansberry, who died at thirty-four, was by all accounts a force of nature. Although best-known for her work A Raisin in the Sun, her short life was full of extraordinary experiences and achievements, and she had an unflinching commitment to social justice, which brought her under FBI surveillance when she was barely in her twenties. While her close friends and contemporaries, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone, have been rightly celebrated, her story has been diminished and relegated to one work—until now. In 2018, Hansberry will get the recognition she deserves with the PBS American Masters documentary “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” and Imani Perry’s multi-dimensional, illuminating biography, Looking for Lorraine.After the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry used her prominence in myriad ways: challenging President Kennedy and his brother to take bolder stances on Civil Rights, supporting African anti-colonial leaders, and confronting the romantic racism of the Beat poets and Village hipsters. Though she married a man, she identified as lesbian and, risking censure and the prospect of being outed, joined one of the nation’s first lesbian organizations. Hansberry associated with many activists, writers, and musicians, including Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, among others. Looking for Lorraine is a powerful insight into Hansberry’s extraordinary life—a life that was tragically cut far too short.A Black Caucus of the American Library Association Honor Book for NonfictionA 2019 Pauli Murray Book Prize Finalist