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Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberrys 1957 Letters to The Ladder
Unformatted Document Text:  Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 12 instead employed her married initials. 37 What we are to make of this is unclear, but it raises an interesting question about the constraints on Hansberry’s public voice. Hansberry apparently wrote no other letters to the Ladder, although she did write a letter to One in 1961 which was never mailed. The Ladder Letters A letter is a relational act of address -- to write a letter is to place oneself in a dialogue with an explicitly acknowledged addressee. To write a public letter is to situate oneself in relation to a public – a real or imagined community of auditors who share, at the very least, the experience of the address. As Fulkerson notes in his analysis of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” writers of public letters can address more than one audience simultaneously and moreover, those audiences are, at the time of writing, “always a fiction.” 38 Yet in contrast to other forms of the public letter, such as Caesar Chavez’s “Letter From Delano” which explicitly drew on Mexican American historical traditions of public letters, 39 the anonymous public letters of The Ladder are not only without historical rhetorical heritage, but are also at once both public and private. The anonymous public letters of The Ladder thus occupy a liminal space – not quite public and not quite private, yet at the same time both public and private. Privacy is accorded to both writer and reader, each of whom remain unnamed and indirectly addressed. Yet the address is shared by a multiplicity of readers, who are an assumed public audience of interlocutors. In fact, letters to The Ladder were a central part of the periodical’s textuality – sometimes even constituting intertextual dialogue. Rhetorically then, this form of anonymous public letter invites us, the unimagined audience, to attend differently. Like other forms of the public letter, by making explicit their relation to prior speech acts the letter writer engages in conversation still ongoing and unfolding -- that is, they belong equally to 37 Lorraine Hansberry, “On Strindberg and Sexism,” in Women in Theatre, ed. Karen Malpede (NY: Limelight Editions, 1985). (Originally published as a letter to the Village Voice in Febuarary 1956.) 38 Robert P. Fulkerson. “The Public Letter as a Rhetorical Form: Structure, Logic, and Style in King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’” The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 65 (1979): 121-136. 39 “To understand the letter and thus the debate between Chavez and the growers, it is crucial to understand the rhetorical history of Mexican Americans, of the public letter and other written documents as a rhetorical form of historical significance for those of Mexican descent, and of the discourse and person of Cesar Chavez.” John C. Hammerback and Richard J. Jensen, “History and Culture as Rhetorical Constraints: Caeser Chavez’s Letter From

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 12
instead employed her married initials.
37
What we are to make of this is unclear, but it raises an
interesting question about the constraints on Hansberry’s public voice. Hansberry apparently wrote no
other letters to the Ladder, although she did write a letter to One in 1961 which was never mailed.
The Ladder Letters
A letter is a relational act of address -- to write a letter is to place oneself in a dialogue with an
explicitly acknowledged addressee. To write a public letter is to situate oneself in relation to a public – a
real or imagined community of auditors who share, at the very least, the experience of the address. As
Fulkerson notes in his analysis of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” writers of public letters can
address more than one audience simultaneously and moreover, those audiences are, at the time of writing,
“always a fiction.”
38
Yet in contrast to other forms of the public letter, such as Caesar Chavez’s “Letter
From Delano” which explicitly drew on Mexican American historical traditions of public letters,
39
the
anonymous public letters of The Ladder are not only without historical rhetorical heritage, but are also at
once both public and private. The anonymous public letters of The Ladder thus occupy a liminal space –
not quite public and not quite private, yet at the same time both public and private. Privacy is accorded to
both writer and reader, each of whom remain unnamed and indirectly addressed. Yet the address is
shared by a multiplicity of readers, who are an assumed public audience of interlocutors. In fact, letters to
The Ladder were a central part of the periodical’s textuality – sometimes even constituting intertextual
dialogue. Rhetorically then, this form of anonymous public letter invites us, the unimagined audience, to
attend differently. Like other forms of the public letter, by making explicit their relation to prior speech
acts the letter writer engages in conversation still ongoing and unfolding -- that is, they belong equally to
37
Lorraine Hansberry, “On Strindberg and Sexism,” in Women in Theatre, ed. Karen Malpede (NY: Limelight
Editions, 1985). (Originally published as a letter to the Village Voice in Febuarary 1956.)
38
Robert P. Fulkerson. “The Public Letter as a Rhetorical Form: Structure, Logic, and Style in King’s ‘Letter From
Birmingham Jail’” The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 65 (1979): 121-136.
39
“To understand the letter and thus the debate between Chavez and the growers, it is crucial to understand the
rhetorical history of Mexican Americans, of the public letter and other written documents as a rhetorical form of
historical significance for those of Mexican descent, and of the discourse and person of Cesar Chavez.” John C.
Hammerback and Richard J. Jensen, “History and Culture as Rhetorical Constraints: Caeser Chavez’s Letter From


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