Cover image for Looking for Lorraine : the radiant and radical life of Lorraine Hansberry
Looking for Lorraine : the radiant and radical life of Lorraine Hansberry
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston, Massachusetts : Beacon Press, [2018]

Physical Description:
237 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Introduction : Lorraine's time -- Migration song -- From heartland to the water's edge -- The girl who can do everything -- Bobby -- Sappho's poetry -- Raisin -- The trinity -- Of the faith of our fathers -- American radical -- The view from Chitterling Heights -- Homegoing -- Conclusion : retracing, May 2017.
"Lorraine Hansberry, who died in 1965 at age thirty-four, was, by all accounts, a force of nature. She was also one of the most radical, courageous, and prescient artist-intellectuals of the twentieth century--and one of the least understood. Defined largely by her groundbreaking play A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry has been hidden in plain sight for decades. Little of her manifold contributions, her associations, her other writing, or her transgressive nature is known. A prolific and probing artist, she also committed herself passionately to political activism. Hansberry's unflinching dedication to social justice brought her under FBI surveillance in the midst of McCarthyism, when she was barely in her twenties. Looking for Lorraine is the first biography of Hansberry in decades, and it shows her multi-dimensional and miraculous complexity. Hansberry was a child of Chicago's striving Black middle class but cast her lot with the working classes; she married a man--Jewish communist songwriter Robert Nemiroff--but described herself as a lesbian. Risking public censure and the prospect of being outed, she joined one of the nation's First lesbian organizations. Hansberry was a Black nationalist and an internationalist. She was befriended and beloved by many of the most important Black figures of her era, including James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Paul Robeson. After the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry used her stature in myriad ways: challenging President Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy to take bolder stances on civil rights, supporting African anticolonial leaders, and confronting the romantic racism of the Beat poets and Greenwich Village hipsters. In this watershed biography, Imani Perry takes us deep into Hansberry's relationships, explores her rich interior life and her influences, and, as Hansberry's papers were finally made available in 2010, unearths revealing themes from her unpublished writing. Looking for Lorraine gives us the ultimate gift of imagining Hansberry as a complete person--and of seeing her prodigious intellect, emotions, activism, and varied relationships at work together in her short but extraordinarily luminous life."--Dust jacket.


Material Type
Call Number
Book 928.1 Hansb
Book 928.1 Hansb
Book 928.1 Hansb
Book 928.1 Hansb

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A New York Times Notable Book of 2018

A revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic, yet least understood, Black artists and intellectuals of the twentieth century.

Lorraine Hansberry, who died at thirty-four, was by all accounts a force of nature. Although best-known for her work A Raisin in the Sun , her short life was full of extraordinary experiences and achievements, and she had an unflinching commitment to social justice, which brought her under FBI surveillance when she was barely in her twenties. While her close friends and contemporaries, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone, have been rightly celebrated, her story has been diminished and relegated to one work--until now. In 2018, Hansberry will get the recognition she deserves with the PBS American Masters documentary "Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart" and Imani Perry's multi-dimensional, illuminating biography, Looking for Lorraine .

After the success of A Raisin in the Sun , Hansberry used her prominence in myriad ways: challenging President Kennedy and his brother to take bolder stances on Civil Rights, supporting African anti-colonial leaders, and confronting the romantic racism of the Beat poets and Village hipsters. Though she married a man, she identified as lesbian and, risking censure and the prospect of being outed, joined one of the nation's first lesbian organizations. Hansberry associated with many activists, writers, and musicians, including Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, among others. Looking for Lorraine is a powerful insight into Hansberry's extraordinary life--a life that was tragically cut far too short.

Author Notes

Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, where she is also affiliated with the Programs in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Law and Public Affairs. Perry is the author of five books and numerous scholarly articles. Her fields of inquiry include legal history, cultural studies, literary studies, and music. She holds a PhD from Harvard in American Studies, a JD from Harvard Law School, an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center, and a BA from Yale College. She is also a creative nonfiction essayist and a book reviewer. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Perry spent most of her childhood in Massachusetts, as well as time in Chicago. Perry currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her two sons.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Perry (May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem) explores the art and life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun, about the struggles of an African-American family in mid-century inner-city Chicago, and died at the age of 34 in 1965. "She was one of those great artists whose life rode the wave of some of the most pivotal and complex moments in American history," Perry writes. "World War II, McCarthyism, civil rights. Lorraine was right in the thick of it, trying to make sense of it all." Perry also details Hansberry's activities as a socialist; writes with curiosity and empathy about her complex personal life, including her marriage to a white man, Robert Nemiroff, and her romances with women; and examines the influences upon her of her college-educated parents and mentors, friends such as James Baldwin and Nina Simone, and fellow writers such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Insightful literary analyses of Hansberry's writings fit alongside annotations of excerpts from her diaries and admiring and affectionate declarations about her. This book, "less a biography than a genre yet to be named-maybe third-person memoir?", is an unusual and exceptional encomium to a brilliant writer and thinker. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* She sparked and sparkled, writes Perry of Lorraine Hansberry, who was all of 29 when her best-known work, the Chicago-set play, A Raisin in the Sun, opened on Broadway in 1959. Perry observes, audiences had never before seen the work of a Black playwright and director, featuring a Black cast with no singing, dancing, or slapstick and a clear social message. In spite of Hansberry's subsequent celebrity, knowledge and understanding of her life and her varied and vital body of work have been superficial at best. Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, seeks to deepen our appreciation in this richly dimensional portrait of a brightly blazing artist, thinker, and activist. Inspired, in part, by Alice Walker's 1975 essay reclaiming the until-then forgotten anthropologist and writer Zora Neale Hurston, Perry does not dwell on the minutiae of traditional biographical coverage of what, when, and where, focusing, instead, on who and why, on inner drama rather than exterior events. Mining writings private and published; collecting memories; tracking the reverberations of Hansberry's personality, words, and actions; and, at times, entering the narrative, Perry illuminates with arresting impact Hansberry's thoughts, feelings, and revolutionary social consciousness. Beginning with Hansberry's discomfort with her prominent Chicago family's conspicuous privileges and high expectations, Perry sets Hansberry's attunement to racial and economic injustice within the larger story of the city's systemic racism. She then charts Hansberry's navigation of a very different environment at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she sensed that art might enable her to do something meaningful in the world. Her artistic self emerged in concert with her commitment to progressive activism, leading her to Greenwich Village in 1950. There Hansberry worked for Freedom, a newspaper founded by Paul Robeson; studied with W. E. B. Du Bois; embraced communism; came under FBI surveillance; concealed her lesbianism; and married a Jewish leftist, Robert Nemiroff, who supported her writing life and later ensured that her work was preserved. Perry delves into Hansberry's journals, letters, poems, essays, plays, and fiction, including gay stories published under the name Emily Jones. She closely examines Hansberry's crucial friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone. Perry notes that a combination of play and seriousness was at the core of her personality, while Hansberry was burdened with depression and driven by a relentless intellectualism. A born political organizer with a richly informed global vision, she was daringly forthright in articulating her radicalism as she fought for genuine equality for black people everywhere. The human condition was Lorraine's obsession and commitment, Perry writes, and how much more she would have accomplished had cancer not cruelly shortened her life. A captivating, independent, many-faceted, far-ahead-of-her-time writer and freedom fighter, Hansberry died at age 34 in 1965. Perry's ardent, expert, and redefining work of biographical discovery brings light, warmth, scope, and enlightening complexity to the spine-straightening story of a brilliant, courageous, seminal, and essential American writer.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

THE WITCH ELM, by Tana French. (Viking, $28.) French has stepped away from her standout Dublin Murder Squad series to deliver a nervy, obsessive novel - equal parts crime thriller and psychological study - about an art gallery publicist and an unsolved murder in his family. YOUR DUCK IS MY DUCK: Stories, by Deborah Eisenberg. (Ecco/ HarperCollins, $26.99.) These six stories, like all of Eisenberg's work, are blazingly moral and devastatingly sidelong. She is an artist of the unsaid: the unacknowledged silences and barely intimated strangenesses of the world. THE FIFTH RISK, by Michael Lewis. (Norton, $26.95.) Lewis brings his breezy, appealing style to an examination of three relatively obscure government departments, energy, agriculture and commerce, shining a light on the life-or-death work these agencies perform, and showing how the Trump administration is doing what it can to undermine them. GANDHI: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948, by Ramachandra Guha. (Knopf, $40.) This second volume of a monumental biography looks at both the public and private life of a major figure of the 20th century. Guha admires Gandhi's achievements, but does not gloss over the man's flaws. GOOD AND MAD: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, by Rebecca Traister. (Simon & Schuster, $27.) Traister, a columnist for New York magazine, argues that women's anger, long a catalyst for social change, has rarely been recognized as righteous or patriotic. Her timely new book is both a corrective and a call to action. IN PIECES, by Sally Field. (Grand Central, $29.) This somber, intimate and at times wrenching self-portrait - written by the actress herself and not a ghostwriter, with minimal rationalization, sentiment or self-pity - feels like an act of personal investigation, not a Hollywood memoir. LOOKING FOR LORRAINE: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, by Imani Perry. (Beacon, $26.95.) This impassioned study by Perry, a scholar at Princeton, yields a fascinating portrait of the influential black playwright and activist, who died young in 1956, cutting short a life of unusual promise. BROTHERS OF THE GUN: A Memoir of the Syrian War, by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple. (One World, $28.) Hisham, a journalist from Raqqa, details his country's descent into endless bloodshed. Crabapple's abundant illustrations capture the chaos. UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE, by Jen Doll. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $18.99; ages 12 and up.) This bighearted Y.A. debut follows a 16-year-old feminist whose summer job selling items from lost airport luggage punctures her Alabama town's conservative bubble. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Library Journal Review

Perry (Ctr. for African American Studies, Princeton Univ.; Prophets of the Hood) writes the first adult biography of playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-65), arguing that although her play, A Raisin in the Sun, is well known, the details of her personal life have been largely obscured owing to her sexuality and radicalism. The daughter of a Chicago real estate developer, Hansberry was not a stellar student but excelled in the arts and creative writing. After moving to New York, she worked under the tutelage of W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, researching and writing on black life in the United States and Africa. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, who was Jewish, but continued to have affairs with women. Perry details the development of A Raisin in the Sun and both the popularity and misinterpretation of the play at the time. She also explores Hansberry's lesser-known works, her relationships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone, and her involvement in the civil rights movement. Perry believes that she would have gone on to even more acclaim had she not died of cancer at age 34. VERDICT A must-read for fans of black and queer history, literary -biography, and women's history.-Kate Stewart, Arizona Historical Soc., Tuscon © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction Lorraine's Timep. 1
Chapter 1 Migration Songp. 9
Chapter 2 From Heartland to the Water's Edgep. 27
Chapter 3 The Girl Who Can Do Everythingp. 43
Chapter 4 Bobbyp. 60
Chapter 5 Sappho's Poetryp. 79
Chapter 6 Raisinp. 97
Chapter 7 The Trinityp. 117
Chapter 8 Of the Faith of Our Fathersp. 136
Chapter 9 American Radicalp. 150
Chapter 10 The View from Chitterling Heightsp. 175
Chapter 11 Homegoingp. 186
Conclusion Retracing, May 2017p. 199
Acknowledgmentsp. 207
Notesp. 209
Indexp. 219