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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, 4 meetings of the New York Chapter of the Daughter’s of Bilitis, the nascent organization for lesbians. In March 1959 Raisin opened on Broadway, and Hansberry won the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play of the Year, becoming first black playwright and fifth woman to win this prestigious award. In 1961 the film version of Raisin won the Gary Cooper Award for “outstanding human values” at Cannes. Battling severe illness that was only to be diagnosed as cancer shortly before her death, she divorced Nemiroff in the spring 1964 and three months later named him her literary executor. Throughout the late 50s and early 60s she wrote and spoke widely against racism, sexism, and the burgeoning Vietnam War. In October 1964, three months before her death, the play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window opened and ran for exactly 101 days until her death on January 12 th 1965. Despite its lukewarm critical reception, friends from the theatrical, literary and political communities kept the play running until her death. Malcolm X attended her funeral and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent a letter to be read aloud. Julius Lester notes the irony of Hansberry’s death falling a little more than a month before Malcolm X’s assassination: “Somehow it seems like more than a coincidence that the two should die within less than a month a half of each other and scarcely nine months before the ‘deferred dream’ exploded in the streets of Watts.” 12 As a public rhetor, Hansberry was prolific: in addition to her plays she wrote public letters to The Ladder, the New York Times, the Village Voice; she wrote essays and journalism for Freedom, Monthly Review, Black Scholar, Ebony, Liberation, and the Village Voice; she gave speeches at New York Town Hall, the American Academy of Psycho-Therapists, the American Society of African Culture, the United Negro College Fund, and, at age 22, to the Inter-Continental Peace Congress in Uruguay. In 1963 she took part in a historic meeting between civil rights leaders and Bobby Kennedy. According to James Baldwin, Hansberry ended the meeting after Kennedy denied her request for a “moral commitment.” Baldwin writes: “The meeting ended with Lorraine standing up. She said… I am very worried about the 11 The case, Hansberry v. Lee (311 U.S. 32) was heard upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. 12 Julius Lester, “Introduction,” in Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays of Lorraine Hansberry, ed. Robert Nemiroff (New York: Random House, 1972), 3.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 4
meetings of the New York Chapter of the Daughter’s of Bilitis, the nascent organization for lesbians. In
March 1959 Raisin opened on Broadway, and Hansberry won the New York Drama Critic’s Circle
Award for Best Play of the Year, becoming first black playwright and fifth woman to win this prestigious
award. In 1961 the film version of Raisin won the Gary Cooper Award for “outstanding human values” at
Cannes. Battling severe illness that was only to be diagnosed as cancer shortly before her death, she
divorced Nemiroff in the spring 1964 and three months later named him her literary executor.
Throughout the late 50s and early 60s she wrote and spoke widely against racism, sexism, and the
burgeoning Vietnam War. In October 1964, three months before her death, the play The Sign in Sidney
Brustein’s Window opened and ran for exactly 101 days until her death on January 12
th
1965. Despite its
lukewarm critical reception, friends from the theatrical, literary and political communities kept the play
running until her death. Malcolm X attended her funeral and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent a
letter to be read aloud. Julius Lester notes the irony of Hansberry’s death falling a little more than a
month before Malcolm X’s assassination: “Somehow it seems like more than a coincidence that the two
should die within less than a month a half of each other and scarcely nine months before the ‘deferred
dream’ exploded in the streets of Watts.”
12
As a public rhetor, Hansberry was prolific: in addition to her plays she wrote public letters to The
Ladder, the New York Times, the Village Voice; she wrote essays and journalism for Freedom, Monthly
Review, Black Scholar, Ebony, Liberation, and the Village Voice; she gave speeches at New York Town
Hall, the American Academy of Psycho-Therapists, the American Society of African Culture, the United
Negro College Fund, and, at age 22, to the Inter-Continental Peace Congress in Uruguay. In 1963 she
took part in a historic meeting between civil rights leaders and Bobby Kennedy. According to James
Baldwin, Hansberry ended the meeting after Kennedy denied her request for a “moral commitment.”
Baldwin writes: “The meeting ended with Lorraine standing up. She said… I am very worried about the
11
The case, Hansberry v. Lee (311 U.S. 32) was heard upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
12
Julius Lester, “Introduction,” in Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays of Lorraine Hansberry, ed. Robert Nemiroff
(New York: Random House, 1972), 3.


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