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In Her Own Words

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 radio interview with Studs Terkel, broadcast on WFMT Radio, Chicago, Illinois, May 12, 1959, “Make New Sounds: Studs Terkel Interviews Lorraine Hansberry.” American Theater (November 1984): 6 

I wanted to be able to come here and speak with you on this occasion because you are young, gifted, and black…I, for one, can think of no more dynamic combination that a person might be. . . And that is why I say to you that, though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic—to be young, gifted, and black

Lorraine Hansberry speech, “The Nation Needs Your Gifts,” given to Readers Digest/United Negro College Fund creative writing contest winners, NYC, May 1, 1964. 

Like [Charles White], I came to adolescence in a community where the steel veil of oppression which sealed our ghetto encased within it a multitude of Black folk who endured every social ill known to humankind: poverty, ignorance, brutality and stupor. And, almost mystically beside all of it: the most lyrical strengths and joys the soul can encompass. One feels that the memories of that crucible, the Chicago South Side, must live deep within the breast of this artist. 

Lorraine Hansberry. We Are of the Same Sidewalks. Foreword to gallery brochure, Charles White Exhibit, ACA Gallery (1961). Published in Freedomways 20 (Winter 1980): 198.

I sit at this desk for hours and hours and sharpen pencils and smoke cigarettes and switch from play to play—Sidney, Touissant, Les Blancs and—nothing happens. I begin to think more and more of doing something else with my life while I am still young. I mean, almost anything—driving an ambulance in Angola or running a ski lodge in upstate New York, instead of this endless struggle. I expect the theatre will kill me.

Lorraine Hansberry, Journal entry, September 16, 1964.

And as of today, if I am asked abroad if I am a free citizen of the United States of America, I must only say what is true:  No. 

Lorraine Hansberry. “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Towards a New Position.” Originally printed as “A Destiny is in the Stars” in Crisis, 1969 and reprinted in The Black Scholar, Vol. 12 No. 2. (March/April 1981): 2–12. 

…All art is ultimately social; that which agitates and that which prepares the mind for slumber. The writer is deceived who thinks that he has some other choice.  The question is not whether one will make a social statement in one’s work—but only what the statement will say, for if it says anything at all, it will be social.

Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Toward a New Romanticism” The Black Scholar, Volume 12, Number 1, March/April 1981, p.5. Originally presented to The American Society of African Culture on March 1, 1959.

Don’t get up. Just sit a while and think. Never be afraid to sit a while and think.

Asagai to Beneatha, Act III. Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.

I think that imagination has no bounds in realism—you can do anything which is permissible in terms of the truths of the characters. That’s all you have to care about.

Lorraine Hansberry. “Interview with Lorraine Hansberry by Studs Terkel.” Radio interview with Studs Terkel, broadcast on WFMT Radio, Chicago, Illinois, May 12, 1959. Transcript reprinted in “Make New Sounds: Studs Terkel Interviews Lorraine Hansberry.” American Theater (November 1984): 6. 

It isn’t a circle—it is simply a long line—as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity. And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes. And it is very odd that those who see the changes—who dream, who will not give up—are called idealists…and those who see only the circle we call them the “realists”!

Asagai to Beneatha, Act III. In Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.

It is in the nature of men to take life for granted; only the absence of life will seem to you the miracle, the greatest miracle—and by the time you understand that it should be the other way around—well, it will be too late, it won’t matter then.

Lorraine Hansberry. From What Use are Flowers? in Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays. Includes The Drinking Gourd and What Use are Flowers? Edited, with critical background by Robert Nemiroff, with a Foreword by Jewell Handy Gresham Nemiroff and an Introduction by Margaret B. Wilkerson, 254. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.