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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
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 can’t believe that a government that has at its disposal a Federal Bureau of Investigation which cannot even find the murderers of Negroes, and by that method shows that it cares very little about American citizens who are black—really is off somewhere fighting a war for a bunch of other colored people, several thousand miles away.
Lorraine Hansberry, speech given at the “The Black Revolution and the White Backlash” Forum at Town Hall sponsored by The Association of Artists for Freedom in New York City, June 15, 1964. Panelists included writers Paule Marshall, John O. Killens, Leroi Jones, and Charles Silberman, actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, producer David Susskind, and journalist James Wechsler.
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 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.
. . .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.
Never, never again must the Negro people pay the price that they have paid for allowing their oppressor to say who is or is not a fit leader of our cause.
Lorraine Hansberry, tribute speech on W.E.B. Dubois, Carnegie Hall, NYC, February 23, 1963.
[T]here is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture—in front of us—our own little mirage that we think is the future.
Beneatha to Asagai, Scene III. Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.
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.
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.