Lorraine Hansberry, Legendary Playwright, Struggle With Sexuality Revealed in ‘Secret Letters’

Lorraine Hansberry, May 19, 1930 - January 12, 1965
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965


*As the first African American woman playwright to have her play, “A Raisin in the Sun,”  produced on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry demonstrated that she was indeed a force with a bright future.

And at the age of 29, she won the coveted New York Drama Critics Circle Award and catapulted to fame in 1959; but her life was cut short by a bout with pancreatic cancer, to which she succumbed in 1962.

Though she met fellow writer Robert Nemiroff at a rally in New York where they were both protesting segregated sports – and married him a year later – few may know that the writer actually struggled with her sexuality, a point that was revealed in letters she wrote to a  magazine clandestine in nature at the time.

Now, the letters written by “L.H.N.” aka Lorraine Hansberry Nemiroff are part of an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and they are on display for the public.

In some of the letters, Hansberry lists what she liked and disliked. At age 28 she listed her likes were “slacks” and “Eartha Kitt‘s eyes, voice, legs, music.” On the other hand, she was bored with “A Raisin in the Sun,” “loneliness,” “most sexual experiences,” and “myself.”

Sometimes the lists are contradictory. When she was 29, Hansberry included “my homosexuality” under both “I like” and “I hate.”

According to The Voice, Hansberry’s two letters to The Ladder — more than two dozen issues of which are on display — evince the thrill of a writer having an outlet to discuss at length observations, about herself and lesbians in general, that could not otherwise be voiced publicly.

The exhibit, “Twice Militant: Lorraine Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder,” is on display at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Herstory Gallery until March 16.

The Village Voice reported on the story behind the letters. Read the in-depth story at The Village Voice here.

2 thoughts on “Lorraine Hansberry, Legendary Playwright, Struggle With Sexuality Revealed in ‘Secret Letters’”

  1. More important than Hansberry’s struggle against heteronormative sexuality is Hansberry’s struggle with liberal imperialism as expressed in her nonfiction writing in Freedom magazine and her fictional characters Tshembe Matoseh and Sidney Brustein. Like Hansberry, these characters challenged conventional American liberalism that can approve military occupations of other countries like Vietnam and present day Libya yet sanction austerity that closes American public schools in cities across the country. She said it was time to stop being a liberal and become a radical. She practiced this in her approach to her sexuality and most importantly in her approach to fighting American imperialism.

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