“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” – Lorraine Hansberry – #TheWomanAlchemist for the month of May – Women Inspiring Women and everyone else – #MonthlyFeature
Lorraine Hansberry
Published on May 14, 2023
published on May 14, 2023

The PeopleAlchemist Edit: #theWomanAlchemist #MonthlyFeature #womanofthemonth – Lorraine Hansberry



Hello, and welcome back to the #TheWomanAlchemist monthly feature. This Friday would have been the 93rd birthday of Lorraine Hansberry, an American playwriter born on 19 May 1930 in Chicago.

She was the first Black playwright and, at 29, also the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. 

Throughout her life, she was a civil rights activist and an advocate for gay rights, addressing social issues in her writings.


Lorraine Hansberry Life – an overview


Lorraine Hansberry was the granddaughter of a freed enslaved person and the youngest of four children. Her parents contributed large sums to the NAACP and the Urban League. 

The Hanberrys moved to a white neighbourhood when she was eight and ended up being violently attacked by neighbours. They moved only after being ordered to do so by a court. The case reached the Supreme Court, ruling restrictive covenants were illegal (Hansberry v. Lee).

Hansberry was interested in writing from an early age and, while in high school, was drawn especially to the theatre. 


Lorraine Hansberry – Key stages


  • 1948 – 1950: Hansberry attends the University of Wisconsin instead of enrolling in Southern Black colleges. After two years, she drops out and moves to New York City
  • 1950 to 1953: Hansberry becomes writer and associate editor for Paul Robeson’s progressive Black newspaper, Freedom, while working part-time as a waitress and cashier. Albeit she reveals he lesbian identity in the articles, Hansberry writes under her initials, L.H., for fear of discrimination
  • 1953: Hansberry marries Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish songwriter who she met on a picket line 
  • 1956: Hansberry quits her job and commits to writing full time
  • 1957: she contributes letters to the magazine, The Ladder about feminism and homophobia
  • 1958: Hansberry raises funds to produce her play The Crystal Stair.
  • 1959: the play opens, renamed A Raisin in the Sun, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on 11 March and is a great success, running for 530 performances.
  • 1961 – the film version of the play, starring Sidney Poitier, receives a special award at the Cannes Festival
  • 1962 – Hansberry and Nemiroff divorce, though they continue to work together
  • 1963 – Hansberry becomes active in the civil rights movement. Along with Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, James Baldwin and others, Hansberry meets with Robert Kennedy, then the attorney general, to test his position on civil rights.
  • 1964 – The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window debuts in theatres; Hansberry is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
  • 1965 – She dies at the age of 34.


Nemiroff assembled a curation of her writings and interviews in To Be Young, Gifted and Black after her death. It was off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre and ran for eight months.

A Raisin in the Sun


Hansberry penned The Crystal Stair, a drama in three acts about a struggling Black family in Chicago, later renamed A Raisin in the Sun. Its title comes from a poem by Langston Hughes, “Harlem”, examining the topic, “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?” 

A Raisin in the Sun is the story of a working-class black family in the late 1940s moving into a white neighbourhood, mirroring the author’s previous experience.

Walter Lee Younger is a chauffeur who hopes to use his father’s life insurance money to open a liquor store with two partners. However, his mother, supported by his pragmatic wife and sister, uses part of the cash as a down payment on a house in an all-white neighbourhood. Mama gives Walter the remaining money to deposit in the bank. 

However, after one of his partners absconds with the money, Walter despondently contacts Karl Lindner, a representative of the white neighbourhood who had earlier tried to buy out the Youngers to avoid racial integration. Walter asks Lindner back, intending to accept his offer. However, Walter finally rejects the proposal. 


A Raisin in the Sun – accolades and Legacy


A Raisin in the Sun (1959) was the first play by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. 

A sharp psychological analysis of the personalities and emotional frictions within a working-class black family in Chicago, A Raisin in the Sun was directed by actor Lloyd Richards, the first African American to direct a play on Broadway since 1907. 

The play’s film adaptation, starring Sidney Poitier, was completed in 1961 and received an award at Cannes Film Festival in the same year.

A Raisin in the Sun is one of the hallmarks of the American stage. It has continued to find new audiences throughout the decades, including Emmy-nominated television productions from 1989 and 2008. It has also earned accolades from Broadway, including a Tony Award in 2004 and 2014 (Best Revival of a Play).


Lorraine Hansberry was a great example of #TheWomanAlchemist . She overcame hostile circumstances, strived and made an impact on the world around her. An example to us all.

Happy Birthday Lorraine, and thank you x


A few of the previous #TheWomanAlchemist blogs celebrating women writers:







Laura Mariani

Laura Mariani

Best Selling Author, Speaker, Change & Transformation Expert


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