Young, Black and Determined: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry-Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack
January 12, 2017 will mark 52 years since Lorraine Hansberry died at the age of 34 after battling intestinal cancer. Her book, ‘A Raisin In The Sun’ and the Broadway play of the same name, broke new ground in America for African-American playwrights. The story of the Younger family has been played out in cities all over the country as people have desired to leave their own communities in search of a better quality of life. The book remains her most popular work but who was the real Lorraine Hansberry? In this biography of Lorraine, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack have allowed us to step in side Lorraine’s personal life and revisit her life from start to finish. And what we see is the formation of the one of the most gifted Americans to have ever lived.
Tupac Shakur had always mentioned Lorraine as one of his idols. After reading her many works and studying her life, I too can state that she is also one of my idols. Born into a family of descendants of slaves on both sides, she grew up in a very affluent household. Educated in good schools and surrounded by family members committed to excellence, from a young age, she had instilled in her the traits that would remain with her through her life as she becomes a groundbreaking playwright and spokeswoman for the growing movement to eradicated Jim Crow and for civil rights in America.
The Lorraine we further come to know as we read through the book, is one who isn’t afraid to break new ground, challenge social norms and express her thoughts on race, literature, war, poverty and most issues in society. She attended the meeting with then attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy and even married outside of her ethnicity when she wed Robert Nemiroff at a time where it was still illegal in some states. She smoked cigarettes, supported the gay cause, wore long pants and even challenged Malcolm X, a friend in later years, on his views against interracial marriage during his tenure under the Nation of Islam. Never one to be controlled, she lived her life on her own terms and at her own pace. Even as she was dying from terminal cancer, she continued with her work while focusing on the many issues that continued to plague Black Americans. Her vivacious personality, sharp mind and literary skill, earned her the respect, admiration and friendship of an endless list of writers, actors, government officials and activists.
Today I often wonder what would she think if she were alive today, about the current state of America. I think she would ask us if we’ve learned anything from ‘A Raisin In The Sun’. More than 57 years later, America still struggles with acceptance between Americans of different ethnic groups and faiths. While we have come a long way, and are decades past the inhumane system of Jim Crow, there are areas in which much work is still needed. And if Lorraine were here with us, she would encourage us to continue to make our voices heard in opposition to injustices afflicted upon anyone of any background. As her book continues to be re-made for film, television and Broadway, her works and their words continues to stay with us and hopefully for the younger generation of America that will be the voice of our future. Her life story however, is just as important and interesting as anything she’s ever written. And it is not hard to see why, after reading this biography, why her short life was so interesting yet tragic at the same time. Gone well before her time, her memory is still kept alive. After reading this book, I gained more insight into exactly who Lorraine Hansberry was.