Winner of the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
Winner of the Shilts-Grahn Triangle Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
A New York Times Notable Book of 2018
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.
A Black Caucus of the American Library Association Honor Book for Nonfiction
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction
A 2019 Pauli Murray Book Prize Finalist
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Poet, activist, queer icon—there’s much more to Lorraine Hansberry than her Tony-nominated play, A Raisin in the Sun. Biographer Imani Perry had full access to Hansberry’s personal papers, making Looking for Lorraine a revealing, insightful portrait. From her childhood in a middle-class, artistically inclined Chicago home to her civil-rights protests alongside the likes of James Baldwin and Nina Simone, Hansberry mixed politics and art in a too-brief life that was both intellectual and passionate. Simone wrote her anthem “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” for Hansberry after her passing; Perry captures the vibrant energy that inspired the song.
Perry (May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem) explores the art and life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun, about the struggles of an African-American family in mid-century inner-city Chicago, and died at the age of 34 in 1965. "She was one of those great artists whose life rode the wave of some of the most pivotal and complex moments in American history," Perry writes. "World War II, McCarthyism, civil rights. Lorraine was right in the thick of it, trying to make sense of it all." Perry also details Hansberry's activities as a socialist; writes with curiosity and empathy about her complex personal life, including her marriage to a white man, Robert Nemiroff, and her romances with women; and examines the influences upon her of her college-educated parents and mentors, friends such as James Baldwin and Nina Simone, and fellow writers such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Insightful literary analyses of Hansberry's writings fit alongside annotations of excerpts from her diaries and admiring and affectionate declarations about her. This book, "less a biography than a genre yet to be named maybe third-person memoir?", is an unusual and exceptional encomium to a brilliant writer and thinker.