Listen to this story
This Day in History: March 11th
A Raisin in the Sun has become a staple in theater since its debut on March 11, 1959. The play made history as the first Broadway play produced by an African-American woman, Lorraine Hansberry.
Lorraine Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. She used her upbringing as inspiration when she started drafting a play about a working class family on the South Side of Chicago. When Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, she sought to create something for the African-American community that would be deemed good art.
The play tells the story of the Younger family and is set in a one-bedroom apartment shared by three generations of family members. The family has dreams of upward mobility, but circumstances beyond their control begin to interfere with their plans. Although the play focused on the Younger family, it depicted a universal story of a desire to move beyond segregation and disenfranchisement.
Initially the play was titled The Crystal Stair, but was later renamed A Raisin in the Sun-which is a line from a Langston Hughes poem. This was also the first play Hansberry wrote after leaving her job as a writer. It debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and starred Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil.
The cast performed over 500 times and the play was well received by audiences. She even became the first African-American playwright, and the youngest to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. Touring and international productions followed after the success of the play. In 1961, a film version was released and it received an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The play was also transformed into Raisin, a Tony award-winning musical in 1973. Since its debut in 1959, stars including Phylicia Rashad, Diddy, Sanaa Lathan and Denzel Washington have all had roles in this classic.
Lorraine Hansberry accomplished her goal with A Raisin in the Sun and the work has even been introduced to an audience of a new generation with the 2008 television film release. Hansberry did not get to enjoy her success for long because she died on January 12, 1965, but she left behind a lasting legacy with her debut play.