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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, 5 state of the civilization which produced that photograph of the white cop standing on that Negro woman’s neck in Birmingham.’” 13 Yet in spite of these contributions, Hansberry remains a marginalized figure in that she has yet to be acknowledged as the public intellectual she was. Even super luminaries of black culture sympathetic to gender and sexuality issues, such as Cornel West, tend to leave Hansberry out of the equation when listing black intellectuals and those who “championed the struggle for freedom and justice in a prophetic framework of moral reasoning.” 14 Those who have written about Hansberry voice this frustration. For example, Doris Abrams writes: “Not enough has been said about her as an American (black) intellectual leader. Her essays presaged the concerns of the sixties. She had strong connections to Africa. Her writings provide a challenge to black and white America.” 15 More recently, Jewell Gomez noted that “Because we have not studied Hansberry as a cultural worker and thinker but only as a dramatist, we have lost touch with the urgency of her political message and the poetry of her writing.” 16 And even Amiri Baraka, who was part of the Black Arts movement that loudly criticized Raisin as bourgoise melodrama in the early 60s, in 1995 wrote: “The truth is that Hansberry’s dramatic skills have yet to be properly appreciated—and not just by those guardians of the status quo who pass themselves off as drama critics .” 17 Hansberry’s marginality comes at least in part from the failure to read her as a political writer, specifically as a black, feminist, Marxist, lesbian thinker. As Barbara Smith has noted, “When black women’s books are dealt with at all, it is usually in the context of Black literature which largely ignores the implications of sexual politics. When white women look at Black women’s works they are of course 13 James Baldwin, “Lorraine Hansberry at the Summit,” Freedomways, 19 (1979): 272. 14 Cornel West, Race Matters (New York: Vintage, 1994), 48. Despite the fact that he doesn’t name her, West’s phrasing aptly describes Hansberry’s work. 15 Doris Abrams, notes for “Lorraine Hansberry,” Notable American Women, The Modern Period, ed. Barbara Sicherman et al (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980), 310-312). This quote was omitted from the published version but is contained in Abram’s notes held in the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Brooklyn, NY. 16 Jewelle L. Gomez, “Lorraine Hansberry: Uncommon Warrior,” in Reading Black, Reading Feminist, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (New York: Meridian Book, 1990), 314.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 5
state of the civilization which produced that photograph of the white cop standing on that Negro
woman’s neck in Birmingham.’”
13
Yet in spite of these contributions, Hansberry remains a marginalized figure in that she has yet to be
acknowledged as the public intellectual she was. Even super luminaries of black culture sympathetic to
gender and sexuality issues, such as Cornel West, tend to leave Hansberry out of the equation when
listing black intellectuals and those who “championed the struggle for freedom and justice in a prophetic
framework of moral reasoning.”
14
Those who have written about Hansberry voice this frustration. For
example, Doris Abrams writes: “Not enough has been said about her as an American (black) intellectual
leader. Her essays presaged the concerns of the sixties. She had strong connections to Africa. Her
writings provide a challenge to black and white America.”
15
More recently, Jewell Gomez noted that
“Because we have not studied Hansberry as a cultural worker and thinker but only as a dramatist, we
have lost touch with the urgency of her political message and the poetry of her writing.”
16
And even
Amiri Baraka, who was part of the Black Arts movement that loudly criticized Raisin as bourgoise
melodrama in the early 60s, in 1995 wrote: “The truth is that Hansberry’s dramatic skills have yet to be
properly appreciated—and not just by those guardians of the status quo who pass themselves off as
drama critics .”
17
Hansberry’s marginality comes at least in part from the failure to read her as a political writer,
specifically as a black, feminist, Marxist, lesbian thinker. As Barbara Smith has noted, “When black
women’s books are dealt with at all, it is usually in the context of Black literature which largely ignores
the implications of sexual politics. When white women look at Black women’s works they are of course
13
James Baldwin, “Lorraine Hansberry at the Summit,” Freedomways, 19 (1979): 272.
14
Cornel West, Race Matters (New York: Vintage, 1994), 48. Despite the fact that he doesn’t name her, West’s
phrasing aptly describes Hansberry’s work.
15
Doris Abrams, notes for “Lorraine Hansberry,” Notable American Women, The Modern Period, ed. Barbara
Sicherman et al (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980), 310-312). This quote was omitted
from the published version but is contained in Abram’s notes held in the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Brooklyn, NY.
16
Jewelle L. Gomez, “Lorraine Hansberry: Uncommon Warrior,” in Reading Black, Reading Feminist, ed. Henry
Louis Gates, Jr. (New York: Meridian Book, 1990), 314.


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