The Lilly Awards Foundation unveils a statue of playwright Lorraine Hansberry June 9 at 4 PM in Times Square. The statue is part of the Foundation's Lorraine Hansberry Initiative, honoring the late American playwright and civil rights leader’s legacy while investing in those following in her footsteps.
In 1959 Ms. Hansberry became the first Black female playwright produced on Broadway with her landmark play A Raisin in the Sun.
The statue will subsequently tour the country to raise awareness of the full breadth of her work and teachings. Created by sculptor Alison Saar, the statue is entitled "To Sit Awhile," and features the figure of Hansberry surrounded by five bronze chairs, each representing a different aspect of her life and work. The life-size chairs are an invitation to the public to do just that: sit with her and think.
The June 9 unveiling in Duffy Square features a performance from Tony winner (and 2022 Tony nominee) LaChanze, plus remarks from playwright Lynn Nottage; Ms. Hansberry’s older sister, Mamie Hansberry; Tony nominee LaTanya Richardson Jackson; and Legal Defense Fund President Janai Nelson.
The ceremony will also include a photo moment honoring several of the BIPOC, female, and/or LGBTQ+ writers, composers, and lyricists whose work graced Broadway stages this season, including Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Lackawanna Blues), Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change), Masi Asare (Paradise Square), Lucy Moss (SIX), Christina Anderson (Paradise Square), and more.
An invitation-only showcase of student works from the New Victory Theater's Speak Up, Act Out: Celebrating Student Voices will follow. The project, a collaboration between New Victory, the Lillys, and 24 Hour Plays, showcases monologues and short works inspired by Hansberry from NYC middle school students, performed and directed by professional artists, including Quincy Tyler Bernstein, Kate Whoriskey, Russell Jones, Jessica Hecht, April Mathis, Shariffa Ali, and Seret Scott.
The statue will remain in Times Square through June 12, followed by two other New York City installations: The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (June 13–18) and Brooklyn Bridge Park (June 23-29).
The statue will subsequently tour major U.S. cities—including Philadelphia, Detroit, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago (Hansberry's birthplace will enjoy an enhanced and permanent installation in 2023)—and historically Black colleges and universities. In each city, the Initiative will work with local theatres and social justice organizations to showcase the work of contemporary writers of color concurrent with the sculpture’s placement.
The Lorraine Hansberry Initiative also announced a scholarship to make sure the next generation is able to follow in Hansberry’s footsteps, regardless of race, gender, or economic situation. The grant is primarily intended to cover the living expenses of three female and/or non-binary dramatic writers of color entering graduate school, with two additional recipients added each year. Recipients will receive $25,000 for each year of their education, ensuring that they have protected time to write, work with collaborators, and benefit from the guidance of professional mentors in their respective fields.
“One can draw a straight line from the issue of real estate and racial discrimination that Hansberry pointed to so clearly in A Raisin in the Sun, to the generational wealth gap that is preventing women of color, specifically Black women, from following in her footsteps today,” said The Lillys Executive Director Julia Jordan in an earlier statement.
“We know that graduate school is the primary gateway to a career as a dramatic writer,” added Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nottage. “In my 20 years of teaching at the graduate level, I have had only four Black female students. If we want theatre to tell the full story of humanity, we need to nurture the full breadth of talent.”
To make a donation to support the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative, click here.