You are here

The Things That Make One Exceptional

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.

Lorraine Hansberry wrote this in her journal on May 1, 1962. She was exceptional; as an artist, an activist, a public intellectual, a writer she accomplished a great deal in her 34 years. Her commitment to resisting sysytems of oppression and to working for peace and liberation—of blacks, of women, of homosexuals, of the poor, of the colonized—for the transformation of American society—was a thread through all that she attempted. Yet as she argues in ". . .The Beauty of Things Black—Towards Total Liberation," in an interview with TV commentator Mike Wallace, she was not exceptional at all. She was part of a great tribe of people who were working to achieve the same goals.

And yes, in some ways, as an artist, one must do the work of creating by one's self and that may have made Lorraine lonely in a way, in a way many creative people can attest to; but it did not stop Hansberry from being part of a circle of friends, comrades, and colleagues that loved her, enjoyed her, were inspired by her. Here are some of the words of her peers. 

Although Lorraine was a girlfriend…we never talked about men or clothes or other such inconsequential things when we got together. It was always Marx, Lenin, and revolution—real girl’s talk.

Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You. MA: De Capo Press, 2003, p.87 

“. . . in order for a person to bear his life, he needs a valid re-creation of that life, which is why, as Ray Charles might put it, blacks chose to sing the blues. This is why Raisin in the Sun meant so much to black people - on the stage: the film is another matter. In the theater, a current flowed back and forth between the audience and the actors, flesh and blood corroborating flesh and blood—as we say, testifying. . .The root argument of the play is really far more subtle than either its detractors or the bulk of its admirers were able to see.

James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work. NY: Vintage International, 1976.

Lorraine, I am sure, wanted very much that we should understand Walter and his warning as much as we did Mama and her reassurance. . .for Lorraine, and those of us who remember, the play’s intent was expressed in those lines from Langston Hughes from which she chose her title. . . .Lorraine’s play was meant to dramatize Langston’s question, not to answer it.

Ossie Davis, “The Significance of Lorraine Hansberry” in Life Lit By Some Large Vision: Selected Speeches and Writings with Editorial Notes and a Foreword by Ruby Dee. NY: Atria Books, 2006.

We missed the essence of the work—that Hansberry had created a family on the cutting edge of the same class and ideological struggles as existed in the movement itself and among the people. What is most telling about our ignorance is that Hansberry’s play still remains overwhelmingly popular and evocative of black and white reality, and the masses of black people dig it true.

Amiri Baraka, as quoted in Margaret Wilkerson, “Political Radicalism and Artistic Innovation in the Works of Lorraine Hansberry,” in African American Performance and Theater History, edited by Harry J. Elam and David Krasner. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p.40–42


Black Radicalism

Hansberry v. Lee

Literary and Dramatic Criticism

Young Readers