Lorraine Hansberry’s Letters Reveal the Playwright’s Private Struggle
Melissa Anderson reviews the exhibit, “Twice Militant: Lorraine Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder.”
In her review of the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Melissa Anderson walks us through the show, noting pieces of interest and providing background for both Hansberry and the 50s in which she lived. The exhibit explores a largely unknown but significant aspect of Hansberry’s life: the letters she wrote in 1957 to The Ladder, the first subscription-based lesbian publication in the United States, published monthly from 1956–1970 by a lesbian civil rights group called the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco. The exhibit includes approximately twenty-seven issues of The Ladder and Hansberry’s letters, Hansberry’s handwritten lists to herself on her birthdays, typewritten essays on “the homosexual question,” a poem titled “Le Masque,” and a notebook with a sketched self-portrait. There is also a listening station with Hansberry’s 1959 conversation with Studs Terkel, where Hansberry noted, “Obviously, the most oppressed group of any oppressed group will be its women, who are twice oppressed. So I imagine that they react accordingly: As oppression makes people more militant, women become twice militant, because they are twice oppressed.”
“Twice Militant: Lorraine Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder” was exhibited in the Herstory Gallery of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art from November 22, 2013 through March 16, 2014. The Herstory Gallery is devoted to subjects that explore the significant contributions of the women named in The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. The exhibit was organized by Catherine Morris, Sackler Family Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum.