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In Her Own Words
Quite simply and quietly as I know how to say it: I am sick of poverty, lynching, stupid wars and the universal mal-treatment of my people and obsessed with a rather desperate desire for a new world for me and my brothers. So dear friend [sic] I must go to jail.
Lorraine Hansberry, Letter to Dear Edythe, New York City, 1951. In To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p. 83. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
I was born on the Southside of Chicago. I was born black and a female. I was born in a depression after one world war and came into adolescence during another. While I was still in my teens, the first atom bombs were dropped on human beings and by the time I was twenty-three years old my government and that of the Soviet Union had entered actively into the worst conflict of nerves in history—the Cold War.
Lorraine Hansberry, “The Negro Writer and His Roots: Towards a New Romanticism,” speech given at the American Society of African Culture, First Conference of Negro Writers, March 1, 1959. The Black Scholar Vol. 12, No. 2 (March/April 1981), pp. 2–12.
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.
Hannibal: “Me? I am the only kind of slave I could stand to be—a bad one. Every day that come and hour that pass that I got sense to make a half step do for a whole, every day that I can pretend sickness ‘stead of health; to be stupid ‘stead of smart, lazy ‘stead of quick—I aims to do it. And the more pain it give Marster and the more it cost him—the more Hannibal be a man!”
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. Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
A device is a device, but. . .it also has consequences: once invented it takes on a life, a reality of its own. So, in one century, men invoke the device of religion to cloak their conquests. In another, race. Now, in both cases you and I may recognize the fraudulence of the device, but the fact remains that a man who has a sword run through him because he refuses to become a Moslem or a Christian—or who is shot in Zatembe or Mississippi because he is black—is suffering the utter reality of the device. And it is pointless to pretend that it doesn’t exist—merely because it is a lie!
Tsembe to Charlie, Act Two, Les Blancs. In Lorraine Hansberry, 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. Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
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.
Look at the world that awaits you!
Lorraine Hansberry, “The Nation Needs Your Gifts” speech to the Readers Digest/United Negro College Fund creative writing contest winners, May 1, 1964.
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 speech, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” given to Readers Digest/United Negro College Fund creative writing contest winners, NYC, May 1, 1964.