Lorraine Hansberry was the first African American woman playwrite to have a play performed on Broadway, “A Raisin in the Sun '' (1959). Her other notable works of art include “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”, a collection of her writings themed around race, class and her personal life events. Like many Black artists at that time, Hansberry died at the young age of 34 from cancer. Her art however continues to inspire many artists from Nina Simone who dedicated a song in her honor to filmmakers like Spike Lee. Subsequently reaching another generation of artists who may have not been privy to her work because of her premature death.(i.e. me)
Many themes in her art emphasized the importance of sharing the nuances of our individual stories and community. I personally have grappled with this in the past, experiencing fear and shame around being totally transparent. But recently I've embraced the power of vulnerability and using it in my art. That is your superpower. The Angie Martinez x Michelle Obama interview with Gaby Wilson (H.E.R), Kelly Rowland, Winnie Harlow, and Tina Knowles-Lawson speaks to this. There you have at least 2 generations of Black women embracing their vulnerability. Sharing personal lessons of their art (Books, Music, Modeling, and Mothering). We never know what part of our testimony may move someone or be their saving grace. And to have these conversations and the art that is birthed through these revelations live in history is very important. Without publishing of Ann Franks diary how would we have known about this unique perspective of young jewish women living in Nazi persecution. Maya Angelou's autobiographical novels and poems have given voice to the voiceless for decades.
In my art, I find beauty and expression through documenting people and culture. However my natural and journalistic inclination has been to not include myself in these stories. I know there's no shortage of documentation these days with “Day In the Life” , TMI “storytimes” and confessions out here. But there’s a difference in the feelings evoked from today's social media documentation and the history recorded in the work of artists like Lorraine Hansberry. It’s essentially the same difference between ‘content/content creator’ and ‘art/artist’. Contents are the building blocks, how you assemble that content is what makes it art.
This may be the “nostalgia fascination” talking but “To be Young, Gifted, and Black” evokes feelings and questions. It drives you to action (research, protest, or something else). It spurs thought (like the decision to make this post) and yields more creativity, new ideas. It’s also a wonderful marriage of film and theater for someone like me who is intermediate at best in both areas. It's a body of work about a work of art. And it's a reminder of how truly blessed I am to be Young, Gifted, and Black.
She left us with these inspiring words: