The Lilly Awards Foundation has launched the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative to honor 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 Initiative includes a statue of the playwright that will tour the country in 2022-2023 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 statue will be unveiled June 9-12 in Times Square, 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 June 9 unveiling will feature remarks from playwright Lynn Nottage and Ms. Hansberry’s older sister, Mamie Hansberry. The women and writers of color who have had their work produced on Broadway this season will also be invited to join Mamie Hansberry on stage. A 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, will showcase 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 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 has 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.
“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.