Looking for Lorraine
A revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic, yet least understood, Black artists and intellectuals of the twentieth century.Lorraine Hansberry, who died at thirty-four, was by all accounts a force of nature. Although best-known for her work A Raisin in the Sun, her short life was full of extraordinary experiences and achievements, and she had an unflinching commitment to social justice, which brought her under FBI surveillance when she was barely in her twenties. While her close friends and contemporaries, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone, have been rightly celebrated, her story has been diminished and relegated to one work--until now. In 2018, Hansberry will get the recognition she deserves with the PBS American Masters documentary "Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart" and Imani Perry's multi-dimensional, illuminating biography, Looking for Lorraine.After the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry used her prominence in myriad ways: challenging President Kennedy and his brother to take bolder stances on Civil Rights, supporting African anti-colonial leaders, and confronting the romantic racism of the Beat poets and Village hipsters. Though she married a man, she identified as lesbian and, risking censure and the prospect of being outed, joined one of the nation's first lesbian organizations. Hansberry associated with many activists, writers, and musicians, including Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, among others. Looking for Lorraine is a powerful insight into Hansberry's extraordinary life--a life that was tragically cut far too short.

Looking for Lorraine Details

TitleLooking for Lorraine
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 9th, 2018
PublisherBeacon Press
ISBN-139780807064498
Rating
GenreBiography, Nonfiction, History, LGBT, Feminism, Autobiography, Memoir, Cultural, African American, Biography Memoir, GLBT, Queer, Plays, Theatre

Looking for Lorraine Review

  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    “Looking For Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry” (2018) is a superb fact filled biographical work that explores the life of this famous playwright, activist, intellectual and feminist artist- writer. Although Lorraine (LH) was widely recognized and celebrated when her award winning play “A Raisin In The Sun” (1959) appeared on Broadway, author Imani Perry clearly illustrated there were many things previously unknown in LH’s short and extraordinary life, and this is the “Looking For Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry” (2018) is a superb fact filled biographical work that explores the life of this famous playwright, activist, intellectual and feminist artist- writer. Although Lorraine (LH) was widely recognized and celebrated when her award winning play “A Raisin In The Sun” (1959) appeared on Broadway, author Imani Perry clearly illustrated there were many things previously unknown in LH’s short and extraordinary life, and this is the first significant book of her life written in decades. Imani Perry PhD is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University; and has earned multiple degrees from Yale and Harvard University.Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was the youngest of four children born in a middle class South side Chicago family. Their lives would drastically change with her parent’s purchase of a home in a white neighborhood. Confronted by angry white mobs, a brick would be thrown through their window, narrowly missing Lorraine. LH father, Carl, a real estate developer, would file (and win) a housing discrimination case that would be heard by the Supreme Court (1940’s). Lorraine’s mother was also active in the Republican Party. Clearly these events and her parent’s actions and views would be the foundation that shaped LH’s young life to be politically, socially and publically engaged regarding African-American culture and causes.Declining to attend a favored or recommended black college, Lorraine attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison where she was soon fully accepted by white students. While in college, she developed her interest for art, theater, and progressive politics that supported civil rights. Mentored by Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois, she briefly studied in Mexico, and attended an illegal political conference in Uruguay, South America. LH accepted the fact that her life would be subjected to U.S. government monitoring and surveillance. In 1952, her passport was confiscated and revoked by government officials.The marriage of LH to Robert Nemiroff (m.1952-1964) no doubt, raised a lot of eyebrows! RN was a white, Jewish intellectual, songwriter and playwright and a grad student at NYU-- where the couple had met at a protest rally. LH acknowledged her love for him, yet her consuming desire to be a writer and artist would always be her first priority. RN unconditionally accepted, loved, and financially supported his wife despite the complexities and conditions that quietly defined their marriage. RN was with Lorraine when she passed away, and insured her legacy by carefully preserving and filing her papers, correspondence, and all writing that is held in a Harlem, NY archive.The notable friendships of LH with literary intellectual James Baldwin (1924-1987) and singer-entertainer Nina Simone (1933-2003) was described by Perry as “The Trinity”. It was interesting to see how the acceptance and support of these friends influenced (black) cultural commentary, news media, writing and music in the 1960’s. While LH remained lesser known, Perry observed that Baldwin and Simone were black American icons—celebrated in films, documentaries, books and recordings. In the future, she is hoping LH will be more publically acknowledged and recognized.In 1963, LH was invited to NYC by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to participate in a (historical) panel of influential intellectuals to discuss the social racial unrest in Birmingham, Alabama. This meeting (arranged by James Baldwin) undoubtedly influenced policies that led to the Civil Rights Act (1964).It was noticeable that Perry avoided speculative writing about LH's close personal and intimate relationships, and referenced LH's own writing, plays, short stories etc. to tell her story instead. This must have been challenging -- as LH was a (closeted) lesbian, which in 1950’s-60’s homosexuality was unacceptable in the black American community. As a radical outspoken black feminist, socialist and Marxist; LH would need her marriage and her husband’s unwavering support for her own security and safety. Overall, Perry has presented the life and times of LH with a tremendous amount of dignity and respect. In addition, Perry has written: May We Forever Stand (2018) – More Beautiful Than Terrible (2011) – Prophets of The Hood (2004).
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  • Vicky
    January 1, 1970
    Although I haven't quite finished Looking for Lorraine (I'm at the 80% mark), I've decided to set out a few thoughts today to coincide with the publication of the book. I first became aware of the name "Lorraine Hansberry" while watching Raoul Peck's powerful documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which explores racism in the US through the writings and reminiscences of James Baldwin. Referencing a meeting in 1963 with then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to discuss the state of interracial relatio Although I haven't quite finished Looking for Lorraine (I'm at the 80% mark), I've decided to set out a few thoughts today to coincide with the publication of the book. I first became aware of the name "Lorraine Hansberry" while watching Raoul Peck's powerful documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which explores racism in the US through the writings and reminiscences of James Baldwin. Referencing a meeting in 1963 with then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to discuss the state of interracial relations, Baldwin talks about a resplendent presence at the meeting, a woman who stunned RFK with her determination about what needed to be done (not that RFK wanted to hear those things), but who unfortunately died young. That woman was Lorraine Hansberry and, having looked her up, I jumped at the opportunity to receive an advance copy of Looking for Lorraine for review purposes.This biography is beyond good. Imani Perry does a wonderful job dragging Lorraine from the shadows, where her premature death confined her, and out into the array of black writers and activists that helped shape the struggle for racial equality in the 50s and 60s. As Perry says, James Baldwin and Nina Simone (both close friends of Lorraine's) were after the 60s criticised for saying uncomfortable things, however both were reinstated recently as important figures of the history of black struggle. This biography serves the purpose of allowing Lorraine to join them, take the place that she rightfully deserves, and be 'remembered fully' (p. 114), as she would have wanted.The book touched me with its sensitive portrayal of Lorraine, a woman the writer never met (as she was born long after Lorraine's passing), but who she grew up feeling very close to partly due to her own interest in black history but also, importantly, due to her adoptive father's interest in and love for Lorraine Perry. So young Imani had privileged access to Lorraine in a way; her father's interest fuelled her own passion, which led to further research for the purposes of this book. One can also see several parallels between Lorraine and Imani: loyalty to the race; a passion of equality; a sharing of radical politics. Imani never obliterates her self from her account of Lorraine without, however, using the book as an opportunity to promote her own agenda. One gets the sense of the younger woman responding to Lorraine's work and life choices, as if the older woman was another self or role-model. The result is a wonderfully written book which carried me away with its rhythm and tenderness, but which is also thoroughly researched and effectively organised into chapters covering the following: Lorraine's childhood and university years, her radical politics, her marriage to a Jewish intellectual but also her sexual interest in and relationships with women, her plays and literary work, her friendship with James Baldwin and other important figures of the Black movement, and finally her death of cancer at the age of 34.A timely and wonderful book that's worth more than five stars. Read it.Thanks to netgalley and Beacon Press for the advance review copy.
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  • Kasa Cotugno
    January 1, 1970
    Born into the intellectual and activist middle class, Lorraine Hansberry's soaring intellect and inner strength allowed her to produce the work she's best known for, A Raisin in the Sun. That work arose out of family history in Chicago. She was years ahead of her time, but her background and support from her family and friends has had lasting impact. As noted elsewhere, this is a very well researched account of her life, also containing her lesser known works and details of her life that led to Born into the intellectual and activist middle class, Lorraine Hansberry's soaring intellect and inner strength allowed her to produce the work she's best known for, A Raisin in the Sun. That work arose out of family history in Chicago. She was years ahead of her time, but her background and support from her family and friends has had lasting impact. As noted elsewhere, this is a very well researched account of her life, also containing her lesser known works and details of her life that led to her choices in life. These quotes, poetic and evocative, are proof of the richness of her contribution, and add to the richness of her accomplishments. Imani Perry, herself a Princeton professor as well as author, grew up with Hansbury being held up as an example of what is possible, and has done herself and her subject well with this illuminating portrait. I was interested to note that although she identified as lesbian, a bold declaration for her time, she was married for a few years to Robert Nemiroff, with whom she remained friends until her untimely death. The reason this interested me is that Nemiroff wrote the book for Raisin, the Tony-award winning musical based on her work. Further, the excellence of the work led to another award winning production almost 50 years after Raisin in the Sun's first appearance -- Clybourne Park, with characters referred to and present in the first play. Such is the scope and continuation of Hansberry's vision.
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  • CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian
    January 1, 1970
    I never seem to enjoy the genre of biography as much as I think I'm going to (I've realized memoir and autobiography both appeal to me more for whatever reason). But I quite liked this, at least as much as I have other biographies of historical LGBTQ people. I knew very little of her going into this and thought Lorraine was a complex, fascinating artist who fought against many different forms of social injustice from the 40s - early 60s.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I received this as a digital galley from NetGalley.I am hard pressed to dislike a literary biography but this one was exceptionally good. I liked how Ms. Perry divulged gaps in the historical record and took care to not infer too much. Additionally, the structure of the book made it interesting to read. Instead of going strictly chronologically, Ms. Perry arranged the chapters by topic.Also it made me want to reread A Raisin In The Sun which is always a good thing.
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  • Charlott
    January 1, 1970
    I want to start this review with a simple statement: This might be one of the best biographies I have read to date. I don't throw around this sentence lightly but from start to finish I was engrossed in Imani Perry's "Looking for Lorraine. The Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry". Based on archival material (some of which has only been available since 2010), Hansberry's published writing, and loads of contextual matter, Perry paints a portrait of the playwright (best known for "Raisin in the Sun" I want to start this review with a simple statement: This might be one of the best biographies I have read to date. I don't throw around this sentence lightly but from start to finish I was engrossed in Imani Perry's "Looking for Lorraine. The Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry". Based on archival material (some of which has only been available since 2010), Hansberry's published writing, and loads of contextual matter, Perry paints a portrait of the playwright (best known for "Raisin in the Sun"), critic, and activist Lorraine Hansberry which allows for a deeper understanding of the person Hansberry, her work, and artistic and political movements she was aligned to. Perry peels back layer after layer while also being transparent about what we cannot know and what might be even unethical to speculate. She hones in on Hansberry's queerness, discussing its importance in regards to her understanding of herself, her politics, her relationships and very deeply her writing too. I loved how Perry understands it to situate Hansberry in a wider context, describe important networks (like Hansberry's friendship with Nina Simone and James Baldwin), and offer interesting analyses of Hanberry's creative Oeuvre. This book portrays Lorraine Hansberry as the complex woman she was - grown up somehow middle-class and then turning wholeheartedly to Communism, a staunch feminist who engaged with the writing of Simone de Beauviour but often centred male characters in her own writing, a lesbian who was part of Daughters of Billitis and who married a white Jewish communist. Through the meticulous reconstruction of Hansberry's life and thoughts, one also gains insights into leftist debates, the Civil Rights Movement, lesbian and queer publishing, and anti-colonial politics of the 1950s and 1960s. Written in assured prose this is a wonderful tribute to Lorraine Hansberry.
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  • Shawn Mooney
    January 1, 1970
    I’m not sure how to divvy up the blame between the author and the audio narrator, but this was just mind numbingly boring despite its biographical subject herself being so important and so darn interesting! I woke up at the 33% mark long enough to bail.
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  • ScottJB
    January 1, 1970
    I loved reading this book!Though Lorraine Hansberry has passed, her impressive spirit (and leadership) is still waiting for us to catch up.
  • Andre
    January 1, 1970
    Through the years I’ve heard about the activism and radicalism of Lorraine Hansberry, but never was there a book-length treatment of said activism. Well, thanks to Imani Perry’s careful, caring, love-filled and yes, a radiant piece of scholarship that void has now been brilliantly filled. Imani Perry refers to this work as, “less a biography than a genre yet to be named—maybe third person memoir—” and sets a course that will illuminate Lorraine’s life while avoiding the easy path of rumor and BS Through the years I’ve heard about the activism and radicalism of Lorraine Hansberry, but never was there a book-length treatment of said activism. Well, thanks to Imani Perry’s careful, caring, love-filled and yes, a radiant piece of scholarship that void has now been brilliantly filled. Imani Perry refers to this work as, “less a biography than a genre yet to be named—maybe third person memoir—” and sets a course that will illuminate Lorraine’s life while avoiding the easy path of rumor and BS. “I could tell these stories as gossip. But I hope they will unfold here as something much more than that.”Perry is much more concerned with delivering a first-rate piece of scholarship and she has certainly succeeded in doing that. She eschews the typical biographical format of dates and events and instead crafts a narrative that “comes from the sketches, snatches, and masterpieces she left behind; the scrawled upon pages, published plays, and memories: her own and others from people who witnessed and marveled at, and even some of those who resented, her genius.” She brings Lorraine closer to us, she doesn’t just speak of Lorraine’s activism but shows us via speeches, articles, and witnesses what made Lorraine so radiant and why her star burned so brightly. Imani Perry has created a fully complete portrait of Ms. Hansberry that show us a race woman fully committed to the liberation of Black people. And Imani Perry is hopeful that her portrayal of Hansberry is just one of many to come, as she recognizes the need for Lorraine to be explored widely and deeply by other willing scholars. So, in that longing, you sense the love that Ms. Perry brings to the page, always cautious not to overstate or assume, or read into utterances and writings something that isn’t really there. She still manages to give us an intimate look at Lorraine Hansberry, fleshing out her life beyond the stardom of her most famous play, ‘ A Raisin In The Sun.’ A well balanced, thoughtful, loving treatment of Ms. Lorraine Hansberry, so thank you Ms. Imani Perry for taking the time to bring us this important book and I share your hope that other books may soon be on the way to build on the brilliance of this work. Here Imani Perry speaks about Nina Simone and Jimmy Baldwin, both friends to Lorraine, “They paid mightily for love, love of the people. James Baldwin died in 1987. Nina Simone, in 2003. Both were widely criticized after the 1960s for their declines. Illness and grief contorted their postmovement lives, but so did truth telling. The admiration couldn’t go on forever. Celebration waned the more Nina and Jimmy knew and said about the world. They made people uncomfortable with their vulnerabilities and rage. Their loneliness deepened. Lorraine haunted. Unexpectedly but appropriately, in the twenty-first century, after death, Jimmy and Nina were reborn as icons on posters and pillows and in books upon books. Lorraine has yet to be.” This changes with the release of this fine book. Thanks to Edelweiss and Random House for an advanced DRC. The book is out Sept. 18, 2018.
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  • Mandy
    January 1, 1970
    This is a very thorough, meticulously researched and comprehensive biography of Lorraine Hansberry and I found it both interesting and illuminating. But it is also verges on the memoir (which the author acknowledges) of someone who obviously has enormous admiration and affection for Hansberry. So much so that the book felt too much like a hagiography, and for me the writing was overly subjective. Nothing really wrong with that essentially, but I prefer my biographies to show more of a balanced a This is a very thorough, meticulously researched and comprehensive biography of Lorraine Hansberry and I found it both interesting and illuminating. But it is also verges on the memoir (which the author acknowledges) of someone who obviously has enormous admiration and affection for Hansberry. So much so that the book felt too much like a hagiography, and for me the writing was overly subjective. Nothing really wrong with that essentially, but I prefer my biographies to show more of a balanced and nuanced view of the subject. Well worth reading, though.
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  • Nancy
    January 1, 1970
    Finished: 15.10.2018Genre: biographyRating: A+Published: 2018Conclusion:One of the great playwrights of theater history....who we rarely hear about: Lorraine Hansberry.Her play A Raisin in the Sun is nr 10 on the list of The 50 Best Plays of the Past 100 YearsLearn about Lorraine here.... Review
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  • Les
    January 1, 1970
    A communion, but far too short - like her life. I should note that after discussing this with one of my book clubs, it wasn't most readers' cup of tea (though the sample set is admittedly small). People felt it was still too distant from Hansberry and that the author in the interest of being accurate was overly cautious and left too many key items a mystery - that perhaps she should have waited until there was greater access to Hansberry's papers to write the book. This is somewhat true, but it A communion, but far too short - like her life. I should note that after discussing this with one of my book clubs, it wasn't most readers' cup of tea (though the sample set is admittedly small). People felt it was still too distant from Hansberry and that the author in the interest of being accurate was overly cautious and left too many key items a mystery - that perhaps she should have waited until there was greater access to Hansberry's papers to write the book. This is somewhat true, but it lives up to its title for me because there is so much about her life as a radical, the complications of Raisin's success, and gems of what Baldwin and Simone thought of her (though you learn a bit more about them than you do about Hansberry in the tellings). I've read and reread "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" multiple times and while this is far from everything, it is certainly much more about her than was out there before. I appreciated and enjoyed that.
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  • Hannah Cook
    January 1, 1970
    I’d never heard of her before I started but had tears in eyes at the end when she dies
  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    Lorraine Hansberry was a remarkable woman, and Imani Perry does a fantastic job in exploring her experiences and bringing her to life in Looking for Lorraine. She was truly ahead of her time, and we should all aspire to be as intersectional and global in our activism and as thoughtful in our interactions and words.I will now be searching out more of Hansberry’s work to read!
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  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    *I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*I was super excited to read this book because I love Lorraine Hansberry and particularly enjoy getting a chance to teach A Raisin in the Sun when I teach sophomores. I am not largely familiar with Hansberry’s other stories, and I think that is one of the areas where this book really shines. As I was reading, I found myself really appreciating the descriptions and events around each of the *I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*I was super excited to read this book because I love Lorraine Hansberry and particularly enjoy getting a chance to teach A Raisin in the Sun when I teach sophomores. I am not largely familiar with Hansberry’s other stories, and I think that is one of the areas where this book really shines. As I was reading, I found myself really appreciating the descriptions and events around each of the other works that Lorraine Hansberry wrote but that didn’t rise to get any mainstream success. I continually checked to see if my library had copies of these different novels and plays because they sounded incredibly interesting and radically different in many ways from A Raisin in the Sun.Overall, I think that if you only know a little or nothing about Lorraine Hansberry, this book is an incredibly good read. The background especially on her childhood and college years is interesting,and I think that Perry does a nice job of relating relevant stories and explaining how these events probably shaped Hansberry’s views and art later in life. I will admit to primarily only knowing that her father tried to buy a house in a white neighborhood when she was younger and a bit about her radical politics, so it was great to see this development of her politics framed by how she saw herself relating to the class divide. I also am always taken when reading biographies by how bad I am at realizing what people were contemporaries of each other. In this case, I was somewhat surprised that both Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Dubois were her mentors, since I associate them with an older generation. Furthermore, I did not realize she was friends with James Baldwin and Nina Simone (two relationships which are really highlighted in the book and were fascinating).If I have any complaints at all about the book it is the insistence that Lorraine Hansberry is a completely forgotten figure in history/art. I think the overall point that maybe she should be better known or her beliefs on what her work meant should be thought about more is fair, but (and maybe this is just because I’m an English teacher) I feel like she is still quite strongly celebrated as a brilliant writer. I think maybe my largest gripe here is that the author seems to believe that the more mainstream interpretation of Raisin in the Sun from when it was first performed is still the prevailing interpretation which I just do not agree with at all. I think the way it is taught for the most part in current times is much closer to the way Hansberry wanted it to be interpreted (including how she would according to this book) than the more vanilla reasons that allowed it to be the first play by a black woman on Broadway.Despite that small complaint, I really enjoyed this book. I think I would recommend this book to anyone who likes A Raisin in the Sun or anyone who is interested in the Civil Rights Movement. I particularly think this would be an interesting companion piece for students reading the play, at the very least pulling from the chapter about A Raisin in the Sun for it.Also posted on Purple People Readers.
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  • Catherine
    January 1, 1970
    I have so many feelings about Lorraine Hansberry. Every time I think of her, I get this literal twinge in my heart of bittersweet love and pure admiration.Before reading this book, I knew very little about her. I haven’t even read ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ (yet). But I’m so glad to have learned of her, and what an incredible and important intellectual she was (that alliteration, tho).I see so much of myself in her, even beyond our obvious intersecting identities as black, lesbian, feminists (and not I have so many feelings about Lorraine Hansberry. Every time I think of her, I get this literal twinge in my heart of bittersweet love and pure admiration.Before reading this book, I knew very little about her. I haven’t even read ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ (yet). But I’m so glad to have learned of her, and what an incredible and important intellectual she was (that alliteration, tho).I see so much of myself in her, even beyond our obvious intersecting identities as black, lesbian, feminists (and not necessarily in that order lol). I didn’t realize how much I’ve been yearning for a kindred spirit; even if it is through the intermediating lens of Perry’s scholarship, I appreciate hearing the voice and life story of someone I relate to so much on so many levels.(I haven’t read many biographies, so it felt a bit weird/invasive to read excerpts of Hansberry’s journals, tbh. It took some getting used to.)I also watched the documentary of her life, “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart”. I’m grateful that her story is being resurrected by scholars who cherish her voice and spirit and legacy.
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  • Rouchswalwe
    January 1, 1970
    Chapter after chapter, I discovered more and more of Lorraine's radiance. Professor Perry has a way of writing that had me feeling as though I were sitting in the archives with her, pondering documents and acquainting myself with two powerful women. I am grateful for Professor Perry's effort of love and her keen insight in writing this volume.
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  • Miles
    January 1, 1970
    Simply put, this was a treat. Imani Perry's documentation of the life of Lorraine Hansberry (I'm not sure this is a biography in the most literal sense, but it reads a lot like one) is unflinchingly honest, compassionate, and thoughtful. In addition to providing readers with a digestible catalogue of what are undoubtedly thousands of documents and pieces of information that comprised a part of Hansberry's life, Perry provides a level of care and gentleness in her excavation that I am not used to Simply put, this was a treat. Imani Perry's documentation of the life of Lorraine Hansberry (I'm not sure this is a biography in the most literal sense, but it reads a lot like one) is unflinchingly honest, compassionate, and thoughtful. In addition to providing readers with a digestible catalogue of what are undoubtedly thousands of documents and pieces of information that comprised a part of Hansberry's life, Perry provides a level of care and gentleness in her excavation that I am not used to. Specifically, Perry will occasionally "break the fourth wall" as it were, to provide context around the information she was able (or unable) to provide. Clear and unequivocally, for example, she explains that she cannot begin to speculate about some of the details of Hansberry's romantic relationships, nor would participating in that level of fringe gossip be worthy of what *was* left behind in Hansberry's death. Perry provides a thorough and complicated examination of the life of one of the greatest writers in American history, but does so with the care and attention that is rarely afforded to a Black woman—particularly one with the radical politics of Lorraine Hansberry.And, y'all, the book is fun, too. I imagine this is what Jessica Harris' memoir was supposed to be, in that we were provided the juicy dispatches from the interior of the black intelligentsia, but in a way that felt less like speculation and more like listening to old stories, or finding old letters in shoeboxes tucked in the backs of darkened closets. This is not to pit the works against each other, outside of the fact that both James Baldwin and Nina Simone are important people in both works, though the personalities of both seem much more fleshed out and real in Looking for Lorraine than they did in My Soul Looks Back. Ultimately, Looking for Lorraine spurred me to, well, continue doing what the title suggests. A re-reading of A Raisin in The Sun is definitely in order, but so too is a re-examination of her other writings, including those less heralded. I believe reading about history to be crucial, lest we repeat it or however the saying goes. However, it is not so much the symmetry between actual events that take place that make me believe history to be more cyclical than it is linear. Rather, it is the way that people *felt* about the times in which they lived. The arguments that we have on Twitter or Facebook about how to best combat white supremacy and patriarchy, for example, are almost literally carbon copies of those had 60+ years earlier. There is something truly unifying about uncovering these shared emotions, and among all the things that Perry wildly succeeds at in this book, capturing how Lorraine—and "Jimmy" and "Nina" and "Bob" and others—felt about being alive (and Young, and Gifted and Black, for example) is perhaps the best of all.
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  • Aimee Dars
    January 1, 1970
    Imani Perry described Looking for Lorraine as a “third-person memoir.” That seems a fitting for this book which is worth reading for anyone who would like to know more about this interesting playwright and civil rights activist.While Perry does pinpoint events in Lorraine’s life that affected her writing, she leaves her biography to others. Instead, she focuses on her experiences as part of the first black family integrating a white neighborhood. She traces Lorraine’s studies at the University o Imani Perry described Looking for Lorraine as a “third-person memoir.” That seems a fitting for this book which is worth reading for anyone who would like to know more about this interesting playwright and civil rights activist.While Perry does pinpoint events in Lorraine’s life that affected her writing, she leaves her biography to others. Instead, she focuses on her experiences as part of the first black family integrating a white neighborhood. She traces Lorraine’s studies at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, including a summer program in Ajijic, Mexico, where she developed her commitment to socialism and widened her acceptance of various lifestyles.After dropping out of college, Lorraine moved to New York where she lived a vibrant life working at a magazine and engaging fully as an activist. However, her beliefs often put her against the traditional civil rights movement since she had a socialist view of power dynamics. Soon, Lorraine met Bobby Nemiroff, and they were June 20, 1953, after spending a day protesting the Rosenberg executions.Although Lorraine and Bobby were lifelong partners, she had relationships with women that informed her writing as well as close friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone. Especially after her fame following the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine used her platform to advocate for equality, not just in the United States but around the world. Sadly, she died at only thirty-four of pancreatic cancer.Perry connects all of these episodes to her plays and unpublished writings, providing close readings with clear insights. Additionally, she offers analysis of other works published at the time that informed Lorraine. Her writing is engaging and revealing as well as personal.I was embarrassed to realize how little I knew about Lorraine Hansberry who was such an important playwright and civil rights activist, but gratified to learn so much from Imani Perry’s “third person memoir.” I especially enjoyed reading the analysis of her works and the works of others who influenced her. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in biography, literature, and/or civil rights.
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  • Camryn
    January 1, 1970
    Oh wow. I want to cry. This was such an amazing journey. I can’t believe I see so much of myself in a woman who lived so long ago. I loved reading every single part of this book. She never knew me, but I feel more connected to Lorraine.
  • Patrice Jones
    January 1, 1970
    Rather slow at first but very informative. Very good research and writing.
  • Corvus
    January 1, 1970
    Full review to come. Important book.
  • Jalisa
    January 1, 1970
    It took a little bit to get into it and frankly I almost put the book aside, but wow I'm so glad I stuck with it. I can't frame into words what a gift getting exposed to Lorraine's legacy in this way has been. At such a young age she was the foremother to some of the great thinkers and doers we know today. She was expansive, complex, and imperfectly human. I'm so happy that her story gets retelling and she is placed in her rightful place in history as a woman in bloom.
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  • Britt Aamodt
    January 1, 1970
    Imani Perry has written a beautiful and needed book on Lorraine Hansberry who, as the author of A Raisin in the Sun, wrote one of the greatest works of 20th-century American literature. So it's crazy that tomes haven't been written about Hansberry.Perry tries to fill in some of the gaps and even includes new insight on Hansberry's lesbian affairs left out of early scholarship. In the preface, Perry warns that she has not written a traditional biography. It is a biography however one that is inte Imani Perry has written a beautiful and needed book on Lorraine Hansberry who, as the author of A Raisin in the Sun, wrote one of the greatest works of 20th-century American literature. So it's crazy that tomes haven't been written about Hansberry.Perry tries to fill in some of the gaps and even includes new insight on Hansberry's lesbian affairs left out of early scholarship. In the preface, Perry warns that she has not written a traditional biography. It is a biography however one that is interspersed with the biographer's own musings on her subject.Perry's narrative is chronological, following Hansberry from birth to premature death at thirty-seven. She deals with Hansberry in the context of her era and looks at how her politics and creative inner-scape were shaped by her identity as an African-American queer woman with a burning desire to write at all costs.Hansberry's husband, Robert Nemiroff, believed in her talent. He made it his duty to encourage her literary career. Their relationship is one of the most pivotal of the book and one of the most surprising. You get the sense from their correspondence that Hansberry felt ambivalent about the marriage. Her later lesbian relationships might explain this.But in politics and literature, Hansberry and Nemiroff were of a mind. Even after the divorce, Nemiroff was steadfast in his support. He later became her literary executor, preserving his ex-wife's letters and papers.Hansberry rubbed shoulders with prominent thinkers and creative luminaries. People like James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Nina Simone, Ruby Dee and Paul Robeson make appearances in the book. But Hansberry always remains at the center of her own story, and you get to see how her life experiences fed into her stories and plays, including A Raisin in the Sun, inspired by an unsettling period in her youth.Perry also reminds readers that Hansberry wrote much more than Raisin. She spends several pages outlining plots and characters, which was a little too much for me. But for those who want to become immersed in Hansberry's literary output, this may be another allurement.I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #NetGalley
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  • Joshunda Sanders
    January 1, 1970
    It's hard not to gush about this biography because it's about one of my favorite creatives and writers by one of America's most prolific and insightful scholars. Hansberry was only alive for 30 years, but she fit a celebrated play -- A Raisin in The Sun --; a glorious friendship with her fellow queer and visionary friend James Baldwin; righteous dissent misconstrued as anger (which Perry rightfully highlights here as a dagger lobbed against Black people then [as it is now, I believe]) complex an It's hard not to gush about this biography because it's about one of my favorite creatives and writers by one of America's most prolific and insightful scholars. Hansberry was only alive for 30 years, but she fit a celebrated play -- A Raisin in The Sun --; a glorious friendship with her fellow queer and visionary friend James Baldwin; righteous dissent misconstrued as anger (which Perry rightfully highlights here as a dagger lobbed against Black people then [as it is now, I believe]) complex and multifaceted loves into those three decades. The best pair of lists -- her likes and dislikes -- that I've ever read is conveyed in this book. I cried at two points, probably because of where I am in my life at this moment: There's a woman from the South named Essie Barnes, who learns Lorraine is dying. She writes her a letter that begins with the sweet term, "Little girl." When white women call us girl or little girl, it's an epithet. But Perry points out that when an elder or anyone from the South, when any one of us says "Little Girl," it's just like saying, "I love you." Cherished, is the way she puts it -- it lets you know you are cherished. And then Ms. Barnes goes on to affirm Lorraine and let her know she thought her picture in the Jet was cute. Which is just the sweetest kind of everyday love a sister can convey to another. The epitome of love. And then, there is the end. A pilgrimage that is significant enough that you should read it for yourself. When I finished reading it, I held the book to my chest and let tears roll down my cheeks. Even when we don't always see the work being done, I thought, Black women will remember us. The ones who are meant to recover our stories will do the work. Imani Perry has done for Lorraine Hansberry what Alice Walker did for Zora Neale Hurston. That, I think, is why I stan for this biography the way I did for Valerie Boyd's bio of Zora Neale Hurston or Nell Painter's bio of Sojourner Truth. There is an unequivocal clarity of sight and empathy for Sweet Lorraine that only a Black woman of Perry's stature and talent can bring to the polymathic genius that was a flashing meteor here on earth. Looking for Lorraine is an incredibly beautiful and necessary addition to American letters and fills in so many significant gaps of what more we should know and understand about the great Lorraine Hansberry.
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  • Chanda Prescod-weinstein
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best biographies I have ever read.
  • M R
    January 1, 1970
    I knew Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, which I remember reading when I was much younger, and vaguely knew that she was from/connected to Chicago, but this book opened my mind up to her so much more. Lorraine is truly inspiring on so many levels. Here was a beautiful Black woman who was deeply committed to the freedom and just of all people, especially Black people, and creating that world through grassroots work, but also with arts as means of putting forth a viewpoint. She underst I knew Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, which I remember reading when I was much younger, and vaguely knew that she was from/connected to Chicago, but this book opened my mind up to her so much more. Lorraine is truly inspiring on so many levels. Here was a beautiful Black woman who was deeply committed to the freedom and just of all people, especially Black people, and creating that world through grassroots work, but also with arts as means of putting forth a viewpoint. She understood that for the movement (and not just Black liberation/civil rights) to truly flourish - it couldn't happen at the top with only elites, but had to be led by the most impacted among us and that movement work meant there was also a place for art to tell the story - there's a place for everyone who believes in the work. It was interesting to read about her relationship with Jimmy (James) Baldwin and Nina Simone. Watching a documentary about Nina Simone a few years back is what alerted me to Lorraine's radical legacy to begin with and this book truly immersed me in her life. It was heartbreaking to know that here was a queer, Black woman who was living "in the closet" throughout her life, but she still lived out her lesbian life as much as she could and she knew the love of women, and the great man that was her husband, Bobby. I feel energized after reading Lorraine's own words, but also after having seen what those who knew her had to say at the end of her life - "Two qualities for which I shall best remember Lorraine are her ability to get excited, stirred up over injustice, narrow mindedness, stupidity and her ability to laugh. These two aspects of her character were strikingly expressed in her two most outstanding physical characteristics - beautiful flashing eyes and a generous warm laugh." - Joanne Grant. Truly, that is how I would want to be remembered exactly. It is shame that she is thought of as only the playwright behind Raisin and that even more sad that she is not considered when we think of the "leaders" of the civil rights period - she was so present and angry and giving in all that was going on during that time and although she died at the start of 1965 she deserves a higher place of prominence in the work of that time and the years prior. She simply deserves more respect in general for all that she was and all that she did. I have a new hero to look to. She was woman, that like all women and people, contained multitudes and sometimes doubted herself too much it would seem, but she truly gave all of herself to her belief in the cause and work.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    My final read of February, and one fitting for Black history month. Like many American high schoolers, I read A Raisin In The Sun in school, but that’s all I really knew about Lorraine Hansberry until this book was released last year. And wow, did I learn a lot from this incredibly comprehensive, gorgeous biography. It’s a serious shame that Hansberry isn’t talked or written about more. She was such a fascinating human being, with so much depth, and she contributed a TON to the civil rights move My final read of February, and one fitting for Black history month. Like many American high schoolers, I read A Raisin In The Sun in school, but that’s all I really knew about Lorraine Hansberry until this book was released last year. And wow, did I learn a lot from this incredibly comprehensive, gorgeous biography. It’s a serious shame that Hansberry isn’t talked or written about more. She was such a fascinating human being, with so much depth, and she contributed a TON to the civil rights movement, the movement for global Black liberation, and to the thought and discourse of the time (though she was very ahead of her time in a lot of ways). She was a writer, a radical, a devoted friend, an activist. She was someone I not only wish I had learned more about growing up, but someone I wish I could’ve known. I’m grateful to Imani Perry for bringing her to life in these pages.Perry spent years looking through Hansberry’s papers, which are archived in Harlem, thanks to her husband who worked hard to preserve her legacy. Despite very little besides Raisin being published, Hansberry was prolific and Perry is able to craft a detailed biography of her from her own writings and the writings of people who loved her, which was a lot of people. She was very close with James Baldwin and Nina Simone (there’s a great chapter on the three of them called The Trinity), Langston Hughes, W.E.B Dubois, Ossie Davis, and a slew of others. She was even in a serious relationship with Molly Malone Cook y’all!! And Cook took the photo on the cover! That just delights me. This book is a loving biography, a history of progressive Black movements of the 50s and 60s, a queer love story, a writer’s mentor. Reading it literally got me to write again after a real slump, because even though Hansberry also had her bouts with depression, she wrote a lot. She wrote things she hated, she wrote things she kept secret, she wrote mundane things. I want to read all of it, which made me think, maybe that stuff is worth writing, even if it seems useless. So I have Perry and Hansberry to thank for creative inspiration and some vital education about a person and a time period that are part of my inheritance as a queer person in the US. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Excuse me while I go re-read Raisin and plan my trip to NYC so I can look at some of these archives myself.
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  • Liz Murray
    January 1, 1970
    A brilliant piece of scholarship that had me falling in love with Lorraine and grieving when she died. There is so much I didn't know about Lorraine Hansberry before reading this book and I wish I had read a book like this a lot sooner. I knew her as the author of A Raisin in the Sun but I didn't know how committed she was to the socialist cause and radical politics. I didn't know about her friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone, and her work with Paul Robeson and Du Bois. Imani Perry co A brilliant piece of scholarship that had me falling in love with Lorraine and grieving when she died. There is so much I didn't know about Lorraine Hansberry before reading this book and I wish I had read a book like this a lot sooner. I knew her as the author of A Raisin in the Sun but I didn't know how committed she was to the socialist cause and radical politics. I didn't know about her friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone, and her work with Paul Robeson and Du Bois. Imani Perry comments that this book is less a biography and maybe a third person memoir. Perry spent endless hours with the Lorraine Hansberry archives at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. From this she has woven deep love and admiration, with Lorraine's incisive wit and intellect. It does feel that Lorraine is writing this too, in part. It certainly makes her "spark and sparkle". There are no assumptions made about her life, everything is backed up by Lorraine's words and actions. At times Perry infers that something may have been the case, but there too she is backing it up with Lorraine's words. Imani Perry is a powerful writer with the ability to to write in an accessible manner without losing deep analysis and critique. I thank her for writing this book and for opening my eyes to the wonder that is Lorraine Hansberry. She never lost her radical being and her commitment to civil rights and equity. There is so much in her life that needs to be known to a much greater audience. Perry writes that Lorraine's story remains in the gaps despite the fact that she was widely influential. "She did things that were politically dangerous. She was brave and also fearful, experimental and superb. She failed and hurt. Her tradition, then, cannot be reduced to the picture of greatness. It has to entail the vagaries of imagination and the many circumstances that excite it" (p. 3).
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  • Lindsey
    January 1, 1970
    This biography/literary criticism of the life and works of Lorraine Hansberry is one of the most important books to come out in recent years. It is timely and relevant to our current political climate. Much more than just a chronological listing of names, dates, whens, and whats, the book explores Hansberry's works through the lens of her ideologies and political activism, which at the time were considered very radical. Imani Perry presents a commentary that is both insightful and stimulating. H This biography/literary criticism of the life and works of Lorraine Hansberry is one of the most important books to come out in recent years. It is timely and relevant to our current political climate. Much more than just a chronological listing of names, dates, whens, and whats, the book explores Hansberry's works through the lens of her ideologies and political activism, which at the time were considered very radical. Imani Perry presents a commentary that is both insightful and stimulating. Hansberry was a woman of action. She didn't want talk, she wanted change, and she wasn't afraid to be aggressive with her demands, even after critics slapped her with the "angry black woman" stereotype. She stood up to RFK, journalists, and TV hosts. When she sat on a panel for a discussion about the need for a civil rights movement, and the white backlash to that movement, she started with "How do you talk about 300 years in four minutes?" How indeed? Hansberry articulated something that we white people sometimes forget. As an ally, our most important job is to listen, not advise. To remember that black people have been in this struggle for hundreds of years. That they're tired of being patient, of being told the "right way" to protest or to demand equality, of being told they shouldn't be angry or bitter. Why trust in the justice of a process that has systemically excluded you? As she said in one of her speeches, "Until twenty million black people are completely interwoven into the fabric of our society, you see, they are under no obligation to behave as if they were [citizens]." Hansberry's ideologies are a call to arms. We have a duty to answer.If you're not angry, you're not paying attention.I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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