6 Quotes from Lorraine Hansberry to Know and Live By

May 19th marks what would have been the birthday of the legendary playwright Lorraine Hansberry, known best as the first black woman to have a play on Broadway. That her enduring legacy serves as continuing inspiration to those of us “young, gifted, and black” is made all the more remarkable by the fact that her life was cut tragically short due to cancer at age 34 in 1965.

Though it is impossible to know for certain what would have lain ahead for her career were it not for her untimely death, the lasting impact of her work suggests her already considerable achievements would only have continued to mount.

Writers are often told to write what we know, and if Hansberry’s works are any example this is an advisable strategy. A Raisin in the Sun was written from a deeply personal place for the Chicago native that made the important themes explored in the play feel even more raw and alive. It is one of the reasons the work has stood the test of time. That the ideas brought forth in A Raisin in the Sun are still relevant and relatable nearly sixty years later speaks not only to our ongoing struggle in this country, but to her undeniable talent and power as a writer to make these words matter for generations.

Hansberry will be best remembered for her writing, but she also played a notable role in the peace and freedom movements, both marching in protests and helping her community in more personal ways. She also worked as a reporter for the Pan-African newspaper Freedom under Paul Robeson, and with W.E.B. Du Bois. She was the inspiration behind Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”.

Today, to honor her birthday and her legacy, read these quotes from the playwright and her work, and perhaps become inspired yourself.

If the world is engaged in a dispute between survival and destruction...then we, as members of the human race, must address ourselves to that dispute. -Lorraine Hansberry

Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking—but write to a point.Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don't pass it up. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don't pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. The Nation needs your gifts. -Lorraine Hansberry

Children see things very well sometimes—and idealists even better. -A Raisin in the Sun

I believe that one of the most sound ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create something universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific. -Lorraine Hansberry

When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right…Make sure you done take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got wherever he is. -A Raisin in the Sun

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely. -Lorraine Hansberry

Source: Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust

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