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Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberry’s 1957 Letters to The Ladder
Unformatted Document Text:  Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 26 positively, and played important roles in community life, whereas lesbians were talked about solely in negative terms, and the women identified as lesbians were usually married. Often, acceptance of male homosexuality was mediated by material privilege… They were influential people in the community. This was not the case with any women.” 76 This point is echoed by Garber who writes that during the Harlem Renaissance “For Black lesbians, whose social options were more limited that those of their male counterparts, the support offered by the black entertainment world for nontraditional lifestyles was especially important.” 77 While each of these writers share with Hansberry the intersticial connection of sexism to lesbian experience, the differences between Hansberry’s and these other analyses raise questions both about Hansberry’s experiences with gay/lesbian communities of color as well as her imagined audiences of the Ladder and One. Hansberry’s letter ends with a caveat that is also an indirect solicitation for dialogue. “But that is but a kernel of a speculative embryonic idea improperly introduced here.” It is as though the dialogic form which serves as the underlying structure of Hansberry’s dramatic writing is also central to her correspondence to The Ladder. For whatever reason, however, the August letter was Hansberry’s last to the Ladder, and her 1961 One letter was never mailed. Hansberry never again publicly returned to issues of sexuality and sexism, focusing her remaining time and energy instead on the increasingly pressing battles against racism. Conclusion In order to deepen our understanding of the significance of Hansberry’s letters to The Ladder I have integrated text and context intertextually by reading Hansberry’s work within both her own textual context and the historical context of the period. While perhaps unorthodox from the disciplinary perspective of rhetorical history (particularly in the sacrifice of more detailed textual analysis for more 75 Ann Allen Shockley, “The Black Lesbian in American Literature: An Overview,” in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, ed. Barbara Smith (New York: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, 1981), 85. 76 hooks, 1989, 121. 77 Garber, 325. Also see Gregory Conerly, “Swishing and Swaggering: Homosexuals in Black Magazines During the 1950s,” in The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities, ed. Delroy Constantine-Simms (Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 2001), 384-394. Conerly documents the qualified acceptance of black homosexuals and intolerance of black lesbianism in the magazines Ebony and Jet in the fifties.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 26
positively, and played important roles in community life, whereas lesbians were talked about solely in
negative terms, and the women identified as lesbians were usually married. Often, acceptance of male
homosexuality was mediated by material privilege… They were influential people in the community.
This was not the case with any women.”
76
This point is echoed by Garber who writes that during the
Harlem Renaissance “For Black lesbians, whose social options were more limited that those of their male
counterparts, the support offered by the black entertainment world for nontraditional lifestyles was
especially important.”
77
While each of these writers share with Hansberry the intersticial connection of
sexism to lesbian experience, the differences between Hansberry’s and these other analyses raise
questions both about Hansberry’s experiences with gay/lesbian communities of color as well as her
imagined audiences of the Ladder and One. Hansberry’s letter ends with a caveat that is also an indirect
solicitation for dialogue. “But that is but a kernel of a speculative embryonic idea improperly introduced
here.” It is as though the dialogic form which serves as the underlying structure of Hansberry’s dramatic
writing is also central to her correspondence to The Ladder. For whatever reason, however, the August
letter was Hansberry’s last to the Ladder, and her 1961 One letter was never mailed. Hansberry never
again publicly returned to issues of sexuality and sexism, focusing her remaining time and energy instead
on the increasingly pressing battles against racism.
Conclusion
In order to deepen our understanding of the significance of Hansberry’s letters to The Ladder I
have integrated text and context intertextually by reading Hansberry’s work within both her own textual
context and the historical context of the period. While perhaps unorthodox from the disciplinary
perspective of rhetorical history (particularly in the sacrifice of more detailed textual analysis for more
75
Ann Allen Shockley, “The Black Lesbian in American Literature: An Overview,” in Home Girls: A Black
Feminist Anthology, ed. Barbara Smith (New York: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press, 1981), 85.
76
hooks, 1989, 121.
77
Garber, 325. Also see Gregory Conerly, “Swishing and Swaggering: Homosexuals in Black Magazines During the
1950s,” in The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities, ed. Delroy Constantine-Simms (Los Angeles:
Alyson Books, 2001), 384-394. Conerly documents the qualified acceptance of black homosexuals and intolerance
of black lesbianism in the magazines Ebony and Jet in the fifties.


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