“(My son) always said we’d have a writer in the family. I guess it gonna be me.”
I just came back from watching one of the most talked-about movies of this year — appropriate, since it’s adapted from one of the most talked-about books of the year — The Help, starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jessica Chastain, based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett. For those of you who are WAY out of the loop, it’s about civil rights — or the lack thereof — in Jackson, Mississippi, during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It’s also about a young white girl who wants to be a writer and the black maid who agrees to give her a story to tell. What the maid realizes — what this intelligent, brave woman realizes — is that SHE is a writer too, and that she has a lot of stories worth telling.
Seeing this movie got me thinking about a real woman, a playwright, who was brave and intelligent and had a number of stories to tell. Lorraine Hansberry is probably most well known for her play A Raisin in the Sun, inspired by her own experience with racial segregation in the ’60s. And maybe the reason we are unfamiliar with Hansberry’s other works is because there aren’t many of them, since she died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34.
But the wonderful thing about Hansberry’s work is that even incomplete, it was too powerful to die out completely. Her ex-husband made a few changes to her play Les Blancs and combined a number of her writings to create the play To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. A Raisin in the Sun was adapted into a Tony-winning musical in the ’70s and Hansberry’s play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window ran on Broadway, closing, actually, the night she died.
After walking away from a beautiful piece of fiction that depicts two women of differing ages, races, and backgrounds searching for a voice, it’s nice to remember that there was a real woman like Lorraine Hansberry who stepped up and spoke out against injustice through her writing. And even though her time here was short, it’s encouraging to remember that her time here was meaningful. That she had a voice. That she was heard. That she is still being heard, even today.