Honoring Playwright Lorraine Hansberry: Schomburg Center Materials and 'To Sit Awhile'

By Lisa Herndon, Manager, Schomburg Communications and Publications
May 20, 2022
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Wide shot of the sculpture To Sit Awhile. Left, a sign listing name of statue & artist. Middle, sculpture of Lorraine Hansberry with chairs and stools on the left and right sides of her.
The Schomburg Center, which is home to Lorraine Hansberry’s personal papers, diaries, manuscripts, and photographs, will host the statue, To Sit Awhile, from Monday, June 13 through Saturday, June 18, 2022

Photo: Jonathan Blanc/NYPL

**Originally published on May 20, 2022, Updated June 13, 2022 **

Did you know Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) made history in 1959 as the first African American female playwright to have her work, A Raisin in the Sun, produced on Broadway?

While she is perhaps best-known for that literary masterpiece, Hansberry’s life was one of activism. She used the power of her words to advance conversations on issues such as racial justice, fair housing, equality, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Through The Lorraine Hansberry Initiative, the Schomburg Center is hosting the statue, To Sit Awhile. Experience a rare opportunity to see the work. The statue, inspired by Hansberry, will be on view in front of the Center from Monday, June 13–Saturday, June 18, 2022.

If you would like to go even deeper into the life, writings, and legacy of the acclaimed wordsmith, the Schomburg Center is home to the Lorraine Hansberry collections. Consider scheduling a research appointment to view materials in the Center’s divisions.

To Sit Awhile

To Sit Awhile is part of a national tour promoting Hansberry’s impact and legacy, and continuing the conversations on issues she championed. The Lillys, which promotes racial and gender parity in the theater, announced a $2.5 million campaign to fund The Lorraine Hansberry Initiative. The scholarship will cover living expenses for women and non-binary playwrights of color pursuing graduate degrees in playwriting.

Created by Alison Saar, the statue of Hansberry is surrounded by five life-sized bronze chairs including a stool and office chair representing stages of her life such as her childhood home and time as a journalist. Visitors are encouraged to sit in the chairs, reflect, and enjoy the artwork.

In-Person and Online Schomburg Center Materials

A flyer listing Lorraine Hansberry as the chairman for the Rally to Support the Southern Freedom in June 1963.
Materials in the Schomburg Center's Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division include diaries, short stories, poems, speeches, and business correspondence.

NYPL Digital Image 58309103

You can schedule a research appointment to learn more about the writer, journalist, and activist whose life continues to inspire artists around the world.

The Lorraine Hansberry Papers

The Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division (MARB) holds The Lorraine Hansberry Papers, which include her journals, short stories, poems, speeches, resume, and a typed letter about a 1952 trip to Uruguay.

There are play scripts from A Raisin in the Sun, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, and Les Blancs along with unfinished plays and film scripts such as Toussaint, The Drinking Gourd, What Use Are Flowers? and Masters of the Dew.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had Hansberry and her husband, Robert Nemiroff, under surveillance. The collection also includes copies of the FBI’s files.

If you'd like to get an early look at some of the items in MARB, explore their digital collections. There are drawings such as self portraits, a flyer from a June 1963 freedom rally listing her as its chairman, and her funeral program.

Actors Rita Moreno and Gabriel Dell posing beneath a theater marquee sign advertising their roles in Lorraine Hansberry's play The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window at the Longacre Theatre in New York City.
Academy Award-winning actress Rita Moreno and actor Gabriel Dell are posing beneath a theater marquee sign for Lorraine Hansberry's play The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window.

NYPL Digital Image 57215027

Lorraine Hansberry Audio and Moving Image Collection

The Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division holds over 200 audio and 50 video recordings documenting her career as a playwright. Many of the recordings focus on the history-making play, A Raisin in the Sun.

Videos in the collection include 1975's Lorraine Hansberry: The Black Experience in the Creation of Drama. Mostly using Hansberry’s words to tell the story, the video traces her artistic growth and evolution as a playwright and activist.

Writer and producer Ralph J. Tangney covers Hansberry’s childhood in Chicago, days as a student at the University of Wisconsin, time as a journalist in Harlem, married life, and success on Broadway.

Portraits and Photographs

Located in the Photographs and Prints Division, the Lorraine Hansberry Photograph Collection has production and promotional stills from A Raisin in the Sun, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, Les Blancs, as well as To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which was adapted posthumously from her writings. There are over 700 items. 

Images in the Lorraine Hansberry Portrait Collection offer a more personal look at the artist. There is an iconic shot of the playwright at her typewriter and a picture of her as a young girl.

Books covers of Conversations with Lorraine Hansberry; To Be Young, Gifted and Black; and Radical Vision
Books about Lorraine Hansberry in the Center’s Research and Reference Division discuss the private life of the author and her activism.

Books Written About Hansberry

The Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division has books on the journalist and playwright in its collections.

In Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry, scholar Soyica Diggs Colbert covers Hansberry's life from the context of art and politics. Although she is rightly recognized for her work A Raisin in the Sun, Colbert argues that its fame overshadows her groundbreaking stories as a journalist and lesser-know plays addressing issues such a slavery, interracial communities, and Civil Rights.

Edited by Mollie Godfrey, Conversations with Lorraine Hansberry, covers 21 interviews with the award-winning playwright. Dates range from just before A Raisin in the Sun’s premiere in 1959 until six months before Hansberry’s death. The discussions cover Black nationalism, integration, and her art.  

Hansberry’s husband Robert Nemiroff adapted, To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, following her death. The book includes original drawings and art by the playwright. James Baldwin wrote the introduction. 

Charles J. Shields uses previously unpublished interviews with Hansberry's close friends in politics and theater, privately held correspondence, plus extensive research to reveal a new side to the award-winning playwright. Lorraine Hansberry: The Life Behind A Raisin in the Sun covers Hansberry's upper middle class background, support of Communism during the Cold War, and interracial marriage.

Online Program

If you can’t make it to the Schomburg Center to see materials in person, you can learn more about Lorraine Hansberry online at our Livestream archive.

Did you know Hansberry was friends with fellow human rights activist and author James Baldwin? Hansberry’s political views—which were controversial at the time—inspired some of his writings.

You can hear more about this and learn even more in the 2018 conversation, Live from the Archive: Looking for Lorraine. Drs. Imani Perry and Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., discuss Perry’s book, Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry. The biography explores Hansberry’s advocacy, friendships with activists such as Paul Robeson, and the FBI, who had her under its surveillance.

Want to stay up-to-date on the Schomburg Center’s events, exhibitions, blog posts, research guides, and more? Sign up for the Schomburg Connection newsletter.

Join the Schomburg Center on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.