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In Her Own Words
I don’t think people start out in this world to be bad. They start out to be happy.
Lorraine Hansberry, letter to The Ladder, 1957.
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.
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.
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 would very much like to live in a world where some of the monumental problems could at least be solved; I'm thinking, of course, of peace. That is, we don't fight. Nobody fights. We get rid of all the little bombs-- and the big bombs.
Lorraine Hansberry. In To Be Young Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff with an introduction by James Baldwin, p.253–254. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.