Beacon Press: Looking for Lorraine
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Looking for Lorraine

The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry

Author: Imani Perry

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.
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“This powerful and profound book is the definitive treatment of a literary genius, political revolutionary, and spiritual radical—Lorraine Hansberry. Imani Perry takes us beyond the widespread misunderstandings of Hansberry’s complicated text into the zone of artistic greatness and moral courage—where Lorraine Hansberry belongs!”
—Dr. Cornel West

“This is one of those books you need to read. Lorraine Hansberry was so dear, so gifted, so black, so singular in so many ways, that to miss the story of her life is to miss a huge part of ours. She left us way too soon, and yet the gift of her presence, so briefly among us, is still felt in the art she left behind. But not only in the art, but in the life. A life at last made comprehensible by this loving, attentive, thoughtful book.”
—Alice Walker

“I have always admired the brilliant Lorraine Hansberry. Now I treasure her even more. Imani Perry’s magnificently written and extremely well researched Looking for Lorraine reclaims for all of us the Lorraine Hansberry we should have had all along, the multifaceted genius for whom A Raisin in the Sun was just the tip of the iceberg. Though Hansberry’s life was brief, her powerful work remains vital and urgently necessary. One can say the same of this phenomenal book, which hopefully will lead more readers to both Hansberry’s published and unpublished works.”
—Edwidge Danticat, author of Brother, I'm Dying

“I feel like Looking for Lorraine is the Black Panther of Hansberry, and just like with the movie, so many of us are so thirsty for this story!”
—Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and National Book Award Winner for Brown Girl Dreaming

  • The New York Times, quoted and listed as author of Looking For Lorraine in piece about Hansberry PBS documentary, 1/12/2018
Download the Discussion Guide for Looking for Lorraine

Questions for Discussion

Chapter 1: Migration Song
  1. In what ways is Lorraine’s life a story of migration?
  2. How did the political times that she grew up in, coming from her particular family background, help shape her outlook of the world?
Chapter 2: From Heartland to the Water’s Edge
  1. What do the artists, authors, and various other influences in Lorraine’s life say about her?
  2. Because many of her influences were varied, racially and in terms of gender and nationality, can we still draw comparisons between her work and how those influences deal with issues of identity in their own work?
Chapter 3: The Girl Who Can Do Everything
  1. How do Lorraine’s political affiliations with the Communist Party play out in her life?
  2. How does her experience in Uruguay for the Inter-American Peace Conference shape her activism and artistic perspective?
Chapter 4: Bobby
  1. Why was Lorraine’s global approach to Black liberation unusual for her era?
  2. How do you read Lorraine’s marriage to Bobby?
Chapter 5: Sappho’s Poetry
  1. “Critics write about Lorraine’s sexuality in varying ways.” (pg. 79) How do you feel about this conversation around her sexuality? Where do they stand on whether or not it is pertinent to a discussion of Lorraine’s work as an artist?
  2. “This might seem like a fairly commonplace understanding today, because we associate the liberation of women generally with the liberation of desire and human connection . . .” (pg. 81) To what extent is this true? Was Lorraine an outlier of thought in her time, or is this question of separating liberation movements still important today?
  3. “Contradictions are a universal part of the human personality.” (pg. 96) How do we see Lorraine’s contradictions manifest? Are they all contradictions?
Chapter 6: Raisin
  1. How did the reactions to the play reflect or contradict Lorraine’s expressed ideas about identity, art, and politics?
  2. “We missed the essence of the work” (pg. 101) writes Amiri Baraka about Raisin in the Sun. Does the writer’s intent matter in how we read and interpret her work?
  3. Is there any merit to the Black left’s then dismissal of Lorraine and her play on the basis of her middle-class background? Do you think she was well positioned to write the play that she wrote?
  4. “She instructed them [the critics] that the real problem with Raisin was it lacked a central character who anchored the play.” (pg. 106) Do you agree? Is there a problem with Raisin and, if so, what is it?
  5. “In the process, she criticized the critics who classified poetic drama (good) on one side and social drama its opposite.” (pg. 108) What is the role of art? Is it to simply entertain us or to also ask bigger questions of us?
Chapter Seven: The Trinity
  1. How important are Lorraine’s relationships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone to her work as an artist but also to her as a person?
Chapter 8: Of the Faith of Our Fathers
  1. “Parenthetically, I might say I haven’t drawn a cent from the family since I came east nine years ago.” (pg. 138) Does Hansberry giving up her financial inheritance change your perspective of her and her politics and work?
  2. “But she doesn’t ventriloquize women, only men.” (pg. 144) How do you read Lorraine’s inclination towards writing male characters?
Chapter 9: American Radical
  1. What did it mean to Lorraine Hansberry to be a radical? “Though she was a radical in essays and letters, it was challenging for Lorraine to bring her radicalism to the American public in her art.” (pg. 158) Does this statement make her any less radical in your view?
  2. And the solution to the struggle for racial justice was “to find some way with these dialogues to show and to encourage the white liberal to stop being a liberal and become an American radical.” (pg. 172) Do you think that liberalism is not radical enough to bring about fundamental change in the US?
  3. “Lorraine rejected the American project but not America.” (pg. 173) Is it possible to separate the two?
  4. How was Lorraine shaped by her broader sociopolitical context?
Chapter 10: The View from Chitterling Heights
  1. “Do I remain a revolutionary? Intellectually—without a doubt. But am I prepared to give my body to the struggle?” (pg. 180) Do you think that one needs to “give her body to the struggle” to be revolutionary?
Chapter 11: Homegoing
  1. “Lorraine, once dismissed as bourgeois, was embraced by the Black Power generation.” (pg. 197) What are some of the factors that may have brought this about?
  2. “There were always murmurs—murmurs about her sexuality, about her radicalism, about the work we’d never seen.” (pg. 198) How different would Lorraine’s legacy have looked had her private papers been released earlier?
  3. How did author Imani Perry’s connection with Lorraine Hansberry influence or affect your reading?

Looking for Lorraine

ISBN: 978-080706449-8
Publication Date: 9/18/2018
Size: x
Price:  $26.95
Format: Cloth
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Will Ship On: September 2018
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