The Spark of Inspiration
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
-Langston Hughes, ‘Harlem’
Once upon the twenty first century, March 11, 1959 to be precise, a twenty-eight year old African American, female, middle class-raised, college drop-out, intellectual, journalist, activist, artist, communist, interracially married, queer, Chicago native author saw her original play premiere at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway in New York City. Her play premiered in unprecedented circumstances while addressing equally unprecedented content for theater at the time: her play presented an intimate view into the life of a black American working class family residing in a major city of the United States. It was performed before white and black audience members alike, and it became wildly successful.
The woman’s name was Lorraine Hansberry,
and her play was titled, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’.
It was the first play written by a black woman, as well as the first play directed by a black man, Lloyd Richards, to ever premiere on Broadway.
In Spring 2018, to my luck, I watched the new PBS documentary on Hansberry’s life titled, ‘Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart’. Learning the details surrounding Hansberry’s life and play moved me deeply: it was written by herself, a black female, directed by a black man, performed by an all black cast, save one, and presented social issues of race, class, gender and integration, from a minority perspective, during the social reality of 1959.
As the film continued, footage from Hansberry’s life post-premiere also sparked a different kind of stirring within me. It was the stirring of an old desire, long forgotten and mostly dismissed, coming back to life and recognition. I experienced the power of image, of an example, of witnessing evidence of precedence with my own two eyes in the images moving across the screen: I saw a young, black woman living in the country, gathering firewood, playing with her dog, still abreast of the world, hosting visitors and working on her art (though honestly, not always enjoying the creation process nor isolating stretches).
It was the early 1960s in upstate New York… and she looked like me.
My youthful enthusiasm for one day living in a more natural setting, even in the woods, didn’t seem so whimsical anymore; it seemed possible.
What happens to a dream deferred?