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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, 3 endeavor to read Hansberry as a major political rhetor and public intellectual of her time who, 20 years before the Combahee River Collective’s landmark “Black Feminist Statement,” 10 and 30 years before critical interrogations of identity occupied the center of major intellectual debates, explored the complex interlocking intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality from antiracist, postcolonial, feminist, antiessentialist, lesbian, and Marxist perspectives. Considering her peers -- she was one year older than Toni Morrison, four years older than Audre Lorde. two years younger than Maya Angelou, and one year younger than Adrienne Rich-- one can only imagine the contribution Hansberry might have made had she lived longer. *** Biographically, Hansberry was a complex and even contradictory figure who personally straddled multiple class, race, and sexual borderlands. She was born in depression-era 1930 Chicago to a middle- class African-American family in Chicago’s southside ghetto and experienced first-hand the structural violence of Jim Crow education and the physical violence of racism. In 1938 her father, a Republican businessman and U.S. Deputy Marshall moved the family to a white neighborhood in order to deliberately contest racial restriction clauses. Carl Hansberry’s suit was ultimately a success and the events created the background for what was to become, 20 years later, her critically acclaimed Broadway hit, Raisin in the Sun. 11 She briefly attended the University of Wisconsin before moving to New York City in 1950. She soon joined the communist party and in 1951 began working for Paul Robeson’s newspaper Freedom (with Louis Burnhan as editor), first as reporter then as associate editor. In 1953 she married Robert Nemiroff, a white Jewish songwriter, and quit her job at the paper to focus full time on playwriting. In the late 1950s she wrote the two letters to the Ladder, dated women, and attended 9 Morris, 1998, 263. 10 This radical Black Feminst Statement reads: “The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, an class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.” Combahee River Collective. “A Black Feminist Statement,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. (Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1981), 210.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 3
endeavor to read Hansberry as a major political rhetor and public intellectual of her time who, 20 years
before the Combahee River Collective’s landmark “Black Feminist Statement,”
10
and 30 years before
critical interrogations of identity occupied the center of major intellectual debates, explored the complex
interlocking intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality from antiracist, postcolonial, feminist,
antiessentialist, lesbian, and Marxist perspectives. Considering her peers -- she was one year older than
Toni Morrison, four years older than Audre Lorde. two years younger than Maya Angelou, and one year
younger than Adrienne Rich-- one can only imagine the contribution Hansberry might have made had she
lived longer.
***
Biographically, Hansberry was a complex and even contradictory figure who personally straddled
multiple class, race, and sexual borderlands. She was born in depression-era 1930 Chicago to a middle-
class African-American family in Chicago’s southside ghetto and experienced first-hand the structural
violence of Jim Crow education and the physical violence of racism. In 1938 her father, a Republican
businessman and U.S. Deputy Marshall moved the family to a white neighborhood in order to
deliberately contest racial restriction clauses. Carl Hansberry’s suit was ultimately a success and the
events created the background for what was to become, 20 years later, her critically acclaimed Broadway
hit, Raisin in the Sun.
11
She briefly attended the University of Wisconsin before moving to New York
City in 1950. She soon joined the communist party and in 1951 began working for Paul Robeson’s
newspaper Freedom (with Louis Burnhan as editor), first as reporter then as associate editor. In 1953 she
married Robert Nemiroff, a white Jewish songwriter, and quit her job at the paper to focus full time on
playwriting. In the late 1950s she wrote the two letters to the Ladder, dated women, and attended
9
Morris, 1998, 263.
10
This radical Black Feminst Statement reads: “The most general statement of our politics at the present time would
be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, an class oppression and see as
our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of
oppression are interlocking.” Combahee River Collective. “A Black Feminist Statement,” in This Bridge Called My
Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. (Watertown, MA:
Persephone Press, 1981), 210.


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