Lorraine Hansberry: A Research and Production Sourcebook.
Lorraine Hansberry entered the annals of American theater history in 1959 during the Civil Rights Movement, when her play A Raisin in the Sun became the first by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway and the first by a Black to win the coveted New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Subsequently, A Raisin in the Sun became one of the most produced plays in America, and in the decades following her death in 1965, at the age of 34, the production and publication of other plays such as Les Blancs (most recently), The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, The Drinking Gourd, and What Use Are Flowers? revealed the extent of her literary and social vision. To Be Young, Gifted and Black, an autobiographical compilation of her writings by the late Robert Nemiroff, her former husband and literary executor, popularized aspects of her life. However, no comprehensive bibliography of her writings and secondary sources was published until 1979, when Nemiroff collaborated with Ernest Kaiser of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to produce "A Lorraine Hansberry Bibliography" for the Freedom ways special issue on Hansberry (19.4).
Now, almost two decades later, Richard Leeson, has compiled a new bibliography of sources, Lorraine Hansberry: A Research and Production Sourcebook, gathering in one text a wonderful array of the diverse materials that characterize the life and work of this major American playwright. Written as "a useful reference guide," this book is, as Leeson claims, "a means by which scholars and interested readers may gain a critical sense and understanding of the scope of Lorraine Hansberry's career and her accomplishments as a dramatist." Even a cursory look at this valuable resource reveals that Hansberry was an intellectual and artist deeply engaged in her times. Her writings and productions critique the social and political climate in America, question the roles assigned to women, challenge the nation's creation of nuclear warfare technologies, and present a view of Africans and African Americans worthy of their humanity and complexity. Leeson's sourcebook provides the detailed annotations and citations that docume nt the controversial nature of Hansberry's work, the sophistication of her ideas, and the significance of her accomplishments.
The excellent materials selected for this book range from an overview of her personal and professional life to annotated bibliographies of theatrical reviews, plot summaries of her published plays, and numerous secondary writings in books and articles. Leeson begins with a chronology of significant events in Hansberry's life and a summation of her life and career, and then moves on to a thorough accounting of her published plays with plot summaries, major professional productions, and critical overviews. Faithful to his subject matter, Leeson does not impose his own views but rather, as a responsible bibliographer, represents well not only the author's voice, but the many writers who have analyzed and commented on her work.
The section entitled "primary bibliography" lists many of Hansberry's writings, including not only her drama but also her fiction and poetry, non-fiction, interviews, recordings, and films. The partial list of unpublished materials, taken from published commentary, along with a statement about the Hansberry archive, reminds the reader that many of Hansberry's unpublished writings are yet to be released by the Nemiroff estate for public view. However, Leeson and other scholars will be pleased to know that Dr. Jewell Gresham Nemiroff, estate executor, has authorized preparation of the papers for placement in a public archive, and that my forthcoming literary biography of Hansberry cites and analyzes many of these sources.
Leeson annotates his bibliography of reviews, providing a detailed and historical overview of the critical reception of plays by Hansberry as well as To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Raisin (the musical), adaptations produced by Robert Nemiroff and based on Hansberry's writings, and the filmed versions of A Raisin in the Sun. Books, articles, and sections of books on Hansberry are organized by decade in a separate section which concludes with a listing of relevant dissertations.
The author provides a helpful guide by indexing the authors listed in the secondary bibliographies. However, because the General Index omits references included in the Author's Index of the secondary bibliographies, the reader must consult both indices in order to locate all of the sources cited for any one author. Organizing such a sourcebook is in itself a challenge. Leeson manages this task well by coding and numbering the references. Readers should carefully consult this listing in order to decipher the book's organizing principles. Scholars should also be aware of occasional typographical errors affecting names and, in rarer cases, actual citations; however such lapses should not dissuade them from using this valuable text. Leeson does not list other bibliographies, although other sources are required in order to gain a comprehensive listing of references on Hansberry. The Freedom ways bibliography, in particular, includes a number of sources, particularly news articles and letters to the editor written by Hansberry and a more extensive list of pre-1979 references, not included in this sourcebook. While Leeson's sourcebook is not and does not purport to be a comprehensive listing of her works, it is the most up-to-date bibliography that has been published. No other single source gives the reader access to so many primary and secondary sources on Hansberry's life and writings.
This sourcebook is of great value to those who are conducting research on Hansberry or on the cultural climate of the United States since the 1950s. It contains some special jewels such as the citation for the London critics' reception of a production of A Raisin in the Sun, rarely mentioned, that toured to London while the show was still running on Broadway. Leeson's annotations are accurate and well-written, and provide a fine guide for researchers. Enjoyable to read and easy to use, this book should be on the shelf of every library and of any serious scholar of the American theater since the 1950s. It is required reading for those who wish to understand better this significant and complex playwright.
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|Author:||Wilkerson, Margaret B.|
|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1999|
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