What was the first play written by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway?
And the answer: A Raisin in the Sun.
Written by Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun premiered on Broadway in 1959 and starred Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. The play tells the story of a Black family in the 1940s, as they grapple with different definitions of the American dream. The title comes from a Langston Hughes poem that reads, in part, "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"
This monumental turning point in American drama depicted life for African Americans in the mid 20th century in a raw, honest fashion, giving weight to struggles and joys often swept under the rug. Not only was Lorraine Hansberry the first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway, but the play's director, Lloyd Richards, was the first Black man to direct a Broadway show. A Raisin in the Sun was made into a 1961 film starring most of the original Broadway cast, adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical in 1973, and produced for television in 1989.
Lorraine Hansberry didn't just dream up this work — she lived it. Hansberry herself grew up on the south side of Chicago, and the play draws from the themes of racial tension she experienced when her father, a successful real estate broker, moved her family to a previously all-white neighborhood in Chicago. His attempt to move his family into this home spurred a new conversation regarding segregation and its legality. Subsequently, as a result of Carl Hansberry’s lawsuit, the Illinois Supreme Court declared these housing segregation laws unconstitutional.
A Raisin in the Sun remains a landmark of American theater. Hansberry rightly won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, a high honor for a time during which playwrights such as Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams were producing work. The play ran for 530 performances, the longest thus far for any Black Broadway writer. Up until then, there had only been 10 dramas authored by Black playwrights (all men) and only one, Langston Hughes' Mulatto, lasted a year. It has since been revived on Broadway twice.
Learn more about the legendary Lorraine Hansberry and A Raisin in the Sun here.