The Sign on Lorraine Hansberry’s Window

By Roger Paradiso

LORRAINE HANSBERRY ON THE ROOF OF HER APARTMENT at 337 Bleecker St, where she lived with her husband, Robert Nemiroff. Photo by Nat Fein, courtesy of Joi Gresham and the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust,

With the money received from the play and film A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry bought the building on 337 Bleecker Street in the West Village. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is a State Historic Preservation site. You possibly passed by and thought nothing of it or maybe you read the plaque. But do you know who Lorraine Hansberry was?

Born in Chicago in 1930, Hansberry’s life was cut short by pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. In that short period of time she did a lot.

She was the first Black, female writer on Broadway. Hansberry’s first play, A Raisin in the Sun, was produced on Broadway, opening at the Barrymore Theater in 1959. She was just 29 when it opened. The play earned a Tony Award.

Though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic, to be young, gifted and Black!”
—Lorraine Hansberry

Columbia Pictures took the play and made it into a film starring several of the original cast members of the play, notably Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett, Jr. Lorraine wrote the screenplay which is the story a of a struggling Black family in Chicago. When asked if she modeled any of these characters from her own life she said, “Beneatha is me, eight years ago.” Beneatha was performed by Diana Sands in the film.

When Lorraine was asked where she got the title, she quoted Langston Hughes’ poem called Harlem.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore— / And then run?

A woman ahead of her time, she protested against nuclear weapons and was also an activist for Black women and civil rights.

In what some would call a small amount of time, Hansberry’s output was prodigious: A Raisin in the Sun; The Drinking Gourd; The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window; Les Blancs.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window was revived on Broadway this past year. The original production started rehearsals in 1964 when Lorraine was very ill. The producers kept the play running until she died in 1965. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017.