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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, 27 breadth of historical context) the strategy comports with Thompon’s notion of “queering” the discipline. Morris, for example, writes: “Against the reasonable objection that such a “literary” case study falls beyond the disciplinary pale of critical practice, I submit that recognizing and understanding various and complex responses to homophobic oppression which predate the Stonewall revolution often require critics, by necessity, to explore unorthodox texts.” 78 In addition to employing unorthodox texts and reading them non-normatively, however, this essay also attempts to resist one of the commonly received narratives about Hansberry articulated in both African-American and lesbian/gay contexts -- that she was an assimilationist playwright of little political importance except biographically (i.e. as an African- American lesbian). As I have tried to show in my analysis, this shortsighted narrative demands reinterpretation if not outright contestation. A careful reading of her work in its historical context, as well as in the context of her entire corpus of writing, reveals Hansberry as a writer whose acumen and breadth clearly distinguish her as one of the foremost public intellectuals of her time. Moreover, in the context of gay/lesbian studies of public communication, Hansberry’s contributions to the Ladder exemplify a distinctive and frequently omitted perspective in contemporary debates over race, gender, and sexuality. The point of this essay, however, is not to celebrate Hansberry as a heroic individual figure cut from the cloth of “great man” historiography. Critical historiography has rightly challenged the kind of rhetorical history that does no more than celebrate status quo assumptions and ideologies – particularly those of heroic individualism. Yet at the same time black women’s voices, particularly black lesbian voices, still have yet to receive the critical attention and recognition their contributions warrant. It is long past time that we, scholars of public address, remedy that omission. As Gomez writes: “As a Black woman, a writer, and a lesbian-feminist, I need Lorraine Hansberry so that her brilliant vision lights my path…She has lately become an insurgent again, inside of me.” 79 Thus studying the contributions of black lesbian voices like Hansberry’s does not merely replicate the simplistic formulations of liberal individualism that serve to valorize mythic individuals who flourish without regard to context, 78 Morris, 1998, 279

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 27
breadth of historical context) the strategy comports with Thompon’s notion of “queering” the discipline.
Morris, for example, writes: “Against the reasonable objection that such a “literary” case study falls
beyond the disciplinary pale of critical practice, I submit that recognizing and understanding various and
complex responses to homophobic oppression which predate the Stonewall revolution often require
critics, by necessity, to explore unorthodox texts.”
78
In addition to employing unorthodox texts and
reading them non-normatively, however, this essay also attempts to resist one of the commonly received
narratives about Hansberry articulated in both African-American and lesbian/gay contexts -- that she was
an assimilationist playwright of little political importance except biographically (i.e. as an African-
American lesbian). As I have tried to show in my analysis, this shortsighted narrative demands
reinterpretation if not outright contestation. A careful reading of her work in its historical context, as well
as in the context of her entire corpus of writing, reveals Hansberry as a writer whose acumen and breadth
clearly distinguish her as one of the foremost public intellectuals of her time. Moreover, in the context of
gay/lesbian studies of public communication, Hansberry’s contributions to the Ladder exemplify a
distinctive and frequently omitted perspective in contemporary debates over race, gender, and sexuality.
The point of this essay, however, is not to celebrate Hansberry as a heroic individual figure cut
from the cloth of “great man” historiography. Critical historiography has rightly challenged the kind of
rhetorical history that does no more than celebrate status quo assumptions and ideologies – particularly
those of heroic individualism. Yet at the same time black women’s voices, particularly black lesbian
voices, still have yet to receive the critical attention and recognition their contributions warrant. It is long
past time that we, scholars of public address, remedy that omission. As Gomez writes: “As a Black
woman, a writer, and a lesbian-feminist, I need Lorraine Hansberry so that her brilliant vision lights my
path…She has lately become an insurgent again, inside of me.”
79
Thus studying the contributions of
black lesbian voices like Hansberry’s does not merely replicate the simplistic formulations of liberal
individualism that serve to valorize mythic individuals who flourish without regard to context,
78
Morris, 1998, 279


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