This blog is about Memoir, about turning memories into words, building a portfolio of writing that can be used for a novel or non-fiction. All experience is fodder for literature. That’s why the crazy comp 101 English teachers told us: Write what you know. That can be intimidating when you realize you don’t know much of anything. That’s okay, take a deep breath, and let your mind go. Flash. That insignificant moment might just be the thing. The springboard that launches a thousand words.
So how did LH come to write her groundbreaking Raisin in the Sun? A native of the southside of Chicago her father moved the family into an all-white neighborhood called Woodlawn—and all-hell broke out. Eventually after firebombing and rocks through the windows the family moved out to one of her father’s other real estate ventures. But the memory never faded. And, after her father passed away, she surmised that the stress of that situation played a part in his death. His heart was broken.
Lorraine always wanted to be a writer and chose the path of journalism. She went to NYC to work at the Black activist newspaper Freedom where she wrote a column. In NYC she mingled with other great artists—an experience as 20-year-old that was better than an MFA. It’s hard to believe she didn’t have a degree. She graduated from the school of hard knocks.
Hansberry wrote about all aspects of injustice. She advocated for women’s rights, gay rights. In 1959 she introduced Raisin in the Sun to Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. She was a bright star that burned itself out. A few years later she would be dead from pancreatic cancer.
I think I speak for all of us: I get a chill. A shame that such a young, vibrant, woman could be extinguished. We will never know all that she could have gone on to produce.