On the 62nd anniversary of the Broadway premiere (March 11, 1959) of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” Dr. West and Professor Rose reflect on the Black literary tradition as they focus on the legacy of both Lorraine Hansberry and Gwendolyn Brooks as revolutionaries and exemplars who are often misunderstood as the “darlings of the white liberal establishment.” The professors discuss the tension between the relation of love and freedom (interpersonal justice) on the one hand and the struggle for political and economic justice on the other, while expertly explaining why and how some of the authors’ most popular works are still misinterpreted in the modern world as less revolutionary than they reveal themselves to be beneath the surface.
Lorraine Hansberry was the first African-American female author to have a play performed on Broadway and is best known for her play “A Raisin in the Sun.” At the age of 29, she won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award—making her the first African-American dramatist, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright to do so. Hansberry worked at the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom, with other intellectuals such as Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois. Much of her work during this time concerned the African struggle for liberation and their impact on the world. Hansberry’s writings also discussed her lesbianism and the oppression of homosexuality. She died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34 and was the inspiration behind Nina Simone’s famous song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," which was also the title of Hansberry’s autobiographical play.
Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. She was a much-honored poet, even in her lifetime, with the distinction of being the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first Black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois until her death 32 years later. In 1976, she became the first African-American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Authoring more than 20 books of poetry, as well as a novel, Brooks was dedicated to celebrating the humanity of Black people and using her work as a vehicle for civil rights activism.
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Tricia’s article on “A Raisin in the Sun”: https://tupjournals.temple.edu/index.php/kalfou/article/view/9/45
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EP/Host: Cornel West
EP/Host: Tricia Rose
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