After graduating from high school, Hansberry enrolled in the University of Wisconsin but left before completing her degree. She studied painting in Chicago and Mexico before moving to New York to embark on a career as a writer. She wrote for Paul Robeson’s publication, Freedom, which was progressive in content and allowed her to connect with other literary and political mentors.
She married her husband, Robert Nemiroff, in 1953 at her home in Chicago. Nemiroff was a Jewish writer that she met at a protest against racial discrimination. Soon after getting married, Hansberry was able to quit working and focus on writing full-time.
She drew inspiration from Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son,” when she started writing her play, The Crystal Stair. However, she decided to retitle it A Raisin in the Sun based on Hughes’ poem, “Harlem: A Dream Deferred.”
Hansberry was able to use her upbringing and recollections from childhood when she started drafting A Raisin in the Sun. It centered around a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago. While she was writing the play, she set out to create something for the African-American community that would be deemed good art.
The play debuted on March 11, 1959, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil as the leading characters. It made history as the first Broadway play produced by an African-American woman. 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.
Her second and final play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, depicted the personal life and pitfalls of a Jewish man named Sidney. The play debuted in 1964 and was met with mixed reviews. The show ran for 101 performances and was able to continue running with the support of her friends. Despite their efforts the show closed following Hansberry’s death. Lorraine Hansberry died on January 12, 1965 and left behind a celebrated legacy with her debut play.