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In Her Own Words
I'm glad as heck that you exist. You are obviously serious people and I feel that women, without wishing to foster any strict separatist notions, homo or hetero, indeed have a need for their own publications and organizations. Our problems, our experiences as women are profoundly unique as compared to the other half of the human race. Women, like other oppressed groups of one kind or another, have particularly had to pay a price for the intellectual impoverishment that the second class status imposed on us for centuries created and sustained. Thus, I feel that The Ladder is a fine, elementary step in a rewarding direction.
Lorraine Hansberry. Letter, signed LHN, originally published in The Ladder Vol. 1 No. 8 (May 1957): 26, 28. Reprinted in The Ladder Vol. I and II. Introduction by Barbara Grier (Gene Damon, pseudonym). NY: Arno Press, 1975.
Considering Mattachine, Bilitis, ONE, all seem to be cropping up on the West Coast rather than here [on the East Coast] where a vigorous and active gay set almost bump one another off the streets—what is it in the air out there? Pioneers still? Or a tougher circumstance which inspires battle?
Lorraine Hansberry.. Letter, signed LHN, originally published in The Ladder Vol. 1 No. 8 (May 1957): 26, 28. Reprinted in The Ladder Vol. I and II. Introduction by Barbara Grier (Gene Damon, pseudonym). NY: Arno Press, 1975.
I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced and dissect and analyze them quite to pieces in a serious fashion. It is time that ‘half the human race’ had something to say about the nature of its existence. Otherwise—without revised basic thinking—the woman intellectual is likely to find herself trying to draw conclusions—moral conclusions—based on acceptance of a social moral superstructure which has never admitted to the equality of women and is therefore immoral itself.
Lorraine Hansberry. Letter, signed LN originally published in The Ladder Vol. 1 No. 11 (Aug 1957). Reprinted in The Ladder Vol. I and II. Introduction by Barbara Grier (Gene Damon, pseudonym. NY: Arno Press, 1975.
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.
We’ve been trying very hard. . .in America to pretend that this greatest conflict didn’t even have at its base the only thing it had at its base. . . Person after person will write a book today and insist that slavery was not the issue.
Lorraine Hansberry. “…Integration into a Burning House.” From a radio symposium on “The Negro Writer in America” on January 1, 1961; two excerpts from a Civil War Centennial program that included James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nat Hentoff, Alfred Kazin, and Emile Capouya. 4:49. Lorraine Hansberry Speaks Out: Art and the Black Revolution. Harper Audio/Caedmon: Abridged edition (April 2009).
…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.
Sidney: I care! I care about it all. It takes too much energy not to care! Yesterday I counted 26 gray hairs on the top of my head—all from trying not to care.
Sidney to David, Act I in Lorraine Hansberry, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window: A Drama in Two Acts, Revised Stage Edition. Acting Edition. New York: Samuel French, Inc., 1993.
I think, then, that Negroes must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent. That they must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps—and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities.
Lorraine Hansberry, letter to white southerner Kenneth Merryman on April 27, 1962. In To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p.213–214. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
. . .It grows out of a thought of mine, as I study history, that virtually all of us are what circumstances allow us to be and that it really doesn’t matter whether you are talking about the oppressed or the oppressor. An oppressive society will dehumanize and will dehumanize and degenerate everyone involved—and in certain very poetic and very true ways at the same time it will tend to make if anything the oppressed have more stature—because at least they are arbitrarily placed in the situation of overwhelming that which is degenerate—in this instance the slave society—so that it doesn’t become an abstraction. It has to do with what really happens to all of us in a certain context.
Lorraine Hansberry, unpublished transcript of “Playwright at Work” interview by Frank Perry for the National Educational Television Broadcasting System (PBS), WNET/Channel 13 NYC, May 21, 1961.
Despair? Did someone say despair was a question in the world? Well then, listen to the sons of those who have known little else if you wish to know the resiliency of this thing you would so quickly resign to mythhood, this thing called the human spirit.
Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Toward a New Romanticism,” The Black Scholar Volume 12 (March/April 1981), p.7