The Secret History of A Raisin In The Sun

by:  Sam Lasman at 03/27/2013

A Raisin in the Sun achieved instant success when it premiered in 1959. However, the titanic reputation of Lorraine Hansberry's masterpiece has obscured the legacy of black playwrights who preceded her. While she was the first black woman to have a play produced on Broadway, and the first black writer honored with the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, several playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance had succeeded in bringing their work to Broadway in previous decades. Of course, African-American plays had been appearing in other venues for much longer, beginning possibly with James Brown's The Drama of King Shotaway, which appeared in 1823 at the African Theater on Mercer Street. Exactly a century later, Willis Richardson's one act The Chip Woman's Fortune opened on Broadway, nearly four decades before Raisin. Garland Anderson'sAppearances went up in 1925, and Wallace Thurman's Harlem, which scandalized audiences with its depiction of the "slow drag" (a dance Walter Lee and Ruth perform in Raisin), opened in 1929. And while he is most famous for his poetry, Hansberry's friend and mentor Langston Hughes was an accomplished playwright who had several pieces, including the 1935Mulatto: A Play of the Deep South, produced on Broadway. All in all, more than twenty black dramatists preceded Hansberry on Broadway stages – though the work of black women, including Angelina Weld Grimke and Eulalie Spence, was confined to smaller stages. While it is undoubtedly a testament to Hansberry's talent and vision that she eclipsed her predecessors, her success owed much to their endeavors.

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