Lorraine Hansberry Remains An Icon Before Her Time

Lorraine Hansberry and I have quite a bit in common. We are both Black women from Chicago who use the power of the pen to convey our emotions regarding the state of the world and even our own lives. We are two individuals who feel deeply about changing the world around us and hold a sense of idealism in a world that does everything to crush it.

My relationship with Lorraine’s work started in high school. In my freshman-year Drama class, one of the plays we had to read was A Raisin in The Sun. Being 14 then, I didn’t fully grasp the depth of the words on the page, but it did still resonate with me. The setting felt familiar to me: Southside Chicago, an area I called home, where I knew the street names and corners like I knew the back of my hand. Lorraine was talking about a city that she also called her home. Our home. 

It was undeniable that Lorraine had opinions on current events, which can be seen in her first body of work, A Raisin in The Sun. This play focused on a Black family on the Southside of Chicago who are looking to improve their socioeconomic status by moving into a predominately white area. Unfortunately, they are met with resistance from their white counterparts. Lorraine’s writing ability captured the essence of an American family who wants to achieve something unattainable: the American Dream. 

Lorraine’s writing ability captured the essence of an American family who wants to achieve something unattainable: the American Dream.

But when she moved to New York City in 1950, her activism shifted gears. In Soyica Diggs Colbert’s essay, “The Home that Lorraine Hansberry Built,” Soyica delves into the new environment that influenced Lorraine’s writing. “Lorraine Hansberry moved to New York City in 1950 amid the Cold War, the Lavender Scare, and the burgeoning modern Civil Rights Movement,” says Soyica. 

Living in New York City during this time made Lorraine restless on the slow development of social progress, which led her to utilized her talent for the written word to develop astute observations featured in publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times


Lorraine could be described as creative, ambitious, and rebellious. This can be seen in her thoughts on how the progression of the Civil Rights Movement during the late 1950s and early 1960s. “The problem is we have to find some way with these dialogues to show and to encourage the white liberals to stop being a liberal and become an American radical,” said Lorraine at the Forum at Town Hall sponsored by The Association of Artists for Freedom in 1964. 

This ultimately led to the birth of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Lorraine was tired of playing it safe—”staying in her lane”—and knew there needed to be a change. She thought one of the best places for people to see that was in the theatre. 

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window debuted to the Broadway world on October 16th, 1964, and the political and social climate of New York City was tumultuous. New York City served as the play’s setting and Lorraine’s new home since 1950. Compared to her first body of work, Raisin in The Sun, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window took a different angle, a radical one. 

According to the Playbill Production website, the play was “set in 1960s Greenwich Village; Lorraine paints a portrait of Iris and Sidney Brustein’s marriage and their progressive circle of friends whose ideals do not always match reality. Will those ideals, which Sidney clings to, cost the couple their marriage?”

Idealism, progressivism, and white liberalism are still concepts tackled and debated in and outside the theatre. These deeply intellectual concepts show how Lorraine was keen to showcase her ability to speak on these dense topics with wit and humor, which Broadway audiences weren’t used to seeing perform on stage. 

During its initial 1964 run (pictured above), the play had its setbacks. These ranged from Lorraine’s declining health from pancreatic cancer to budget costs. Despite its complications, the play left a long impression on audiences. In the essay, “A Living Theatre by Design” by Joi Gresham, Joi discusses her father’s relationship with Lorraine and how their relationship contributed to its legacy today. 

As Joi illustrates, her father, Bob Nemiroff, was married to Lorraine and also served as her creative partner. “Bob was one of three producers of the Broadway show.  It was also his special job as her closest collaborator to attend rehearsals, take notes and present them to Lorraine for discussion and feedback, all to get delivered back to the appropriate parties,” said Joi.

Despite its complications, the play left a long impression on audiences.

Additionally, Bob gave the audience updates regarding Lorraine’s health and the future of the play’s run. This led audience members to feel even more connected to Lorraine and her work. When the play was hit the crushing blow of high production costs, audience members, friends, and theatre enthusiasts chose not to let the play go without a fight. 

“There were numerous spellbinding moments where friends of the production like James Baldwin, Shelley Winters, Viveca Lindfors, Ossie Davis, and Anne Bancroft powerfully spoke on the threat to the theater and to the greater society when great and important dramas such as this play were unable to survive,” explained Joi. 

The play explores not only Iris and Sidney’s dysfunctional marriage but paints a vivid image of how their environment has influenced their ideals which are an integral part of their existence and of their friends and family. Lorraine wanted to develop more of a character analysis rather than a dramatization of each character. Her own experience as a closeted gay woman in Greenwich Village helped shape the narrative of the play, showing how social and political issues aren’t two-dimensional; they are intersectional. 

Her own experience as a closeted gay woman in Greenwich Village helped shape the narrative of the play, showing how social and political issues aren’t two-dimensional; they are intersectional.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window is “messy”, but that’s what makes it authentic. The human condition isn’t perfect; it’s full of contradictions and sometimes doesn’t make sense.  And its 2023 revival director Anne Kauffman understood that and was initially skeptical if she would even be up for the challenge of directing its 2023 Broadway revival.

“I think her combination of realism, slight cynicism, and passion and hope are kind of astonishing, and, of course, this is all happening in her 20s and 30s. “In fact, I haven’t even caught up to her now. Her wisdom — I’d have to live 200 more years,” said Anne for The Hollywood Reporter.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window was the first play I saw on Broadway, and when I stood up with the other theatregoers to give the cast their well-deserved standing ovation, I felt a newfound sense of understanding for Lorraine. Unlike when I was 14 and reading A Raisin in The Sun, I understood what Lorraine was writing about this time around. I understood her. We’re two Black women who want to write the world as they see it and for what it is and should be.

© Jessica Bond (7/17/23) – Special for FF2 Media®


Listen to Joi Gresham, Oscar Isaac, and more discuss The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window here.

Read a unique history of Lorraine Hansberry here.

Check out the New York Times review of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window here.


Featured photo: Jessica Bond is all aglow after attending her first Broadway performance! Photo Credit: Jan Lisa Huttner (6/11/23)

Middle Photo:  This statue of Lorraine Hansberry — called To Sit Awhile  —  was unveiled in Times Square on June 9, 2022 as part of Foundation’s Lorraine Hansberry Initiative. In 1959, Ms. Hansberry became the first Black female playwright produced on Broadway with her landmark play A Raisin in the Sun. To Sit Awhile (created by sculptor by Alison Saar) features the figure of Hansberry surrounded by five bronze chairs, each representing a different aspect of her life and work. The life-size chairs are an invitation to the public to do just that: sit with her and think. Photo Credit: Alamy 2JC25NG  Image: © Niyi Fote/TheNEWS2 via ZUMA Press Wire) Follow this link for more information about To Sit Awhile, including the specific meaning of each of the five chairs in the installation.

Bottom Photo: Photo of the Playbill for the 2023 production of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window by Lorraine Hansberry. Courtesy of choreographer, theatre lover & FF2 friend Staś Kmieć.

Tags: A Raisin in The Sun, Alison Saar, Anne Kauffman, Black Playwrights, Broadway play, female playwright, lorraine hansberry, oscar isaac, Rachel Brosnahan, the sign in sidney brustein's window

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Jess joined FF2 Media as a 2020 graduate of Temple University's journalism program. She has a passion for the arts and using writing as a tool to spread awareness on social issues, independent and small artists. She is a 2021-2022 Fulbright recipient to the University of Sussex, getting her MA in Media and Cultural Studies. She hopes to become an international journalist focusing on local communities and showing the beauty within them.
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