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Authors: Lorraine Hansberry

Les Blancs

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Lorraine Hansberry
Les Blancs
THE COLLECTED LAST PLAYS

Lorraine Hansberry, at twenty-nine, became the youngest American, the fifth woman, and the first black playwright to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best Play of the Year. Her
A Raisin in the Sun
has since been published and produced in some thirty countries, while her film adaptation was nominated by the New York critics for the Best Screenplay and received a Cannes Film Festival Award. At thirty-four, during the run of her second play,
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window
, Lorraine Hansberry died of cancer. In the years since her death, her stature has continued to grow.
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
, a dramatic portrait of the playwright in her own words, was the longest-running Off-Broadway drama of 1969, and has been recorded, filmed, and published in expanded book form, and has toured an unprecedented forty states and two hundred colleges. In 1986, following the stage production of the 25th anniversary of
A Raisin in the Sun
by the Roundabout Theatre in New York City, the play was widely acclaimed as in the foremost ranks of American classics. In 1990, the PBS
American Playhouse
TV adaptation of the 25th-anniversary version had one of the highest viewing audiences in PBS history.
Les Blancs
, her last play—posthumously performed on Broadway and recently in prominent regional theaters—has been hailed by a number of critics as her best.

Works by
Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window
The Drinking Gourd
The Movement
What Use Are Flowers?
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
Les Blancs

VINTAGE BOOKS EDITION, DECEMBER 1994

Copyright
© 1972
by Robert Nemiroff and Robert Nemiroff, as Executor
of the Estate of Lorraine Hansberry
Introduction copyright
© 1994
by Margaret B. Wilkerson
Foreword copyright
© 1994
by Jewell Handy Gresham Nemiroff
Critical Backgrounds and Postscript Copyright
© 197
2 by Robert Nemiroff

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1972.

CAUTION
: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that
Les Blancs, The Drinking Gourd
, and
What Use Are Flowers?
being fully protected under the Copyright Laws of the United States of America, the British Commonwealth, including the Dominion of Canada, and all other countries of the Berne and Universal Copyright Conventions, are subject to royalty. All rights, including professional, amateur, recording, motion picture, electronic, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio and television broadcasting, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved, permission for which must be secured in writing from the author’s agent: the William Morris Agency, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10019.

Particular emphasis is laid on the question of readings.
The amateur acting rights of
Les Blancs
, are controlled exclusively by Samuel French, 25 West 45 Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10036. The amateur acting rights of
The Drinking Gourd
and
What Use Are Flowers?
are controlled exclusively by Jewell Gresham Nemiroff, Executrix of the Estate of Robert Nemiroff.
The Drinking Gourd:
Copyright © 1969 by Robert Nemiroff and Robert Nemiroff, as Executor of the Estate of Lorraine Hansberry.

Portions of
Les Blancs, The Drinking Gourd
, and
What Use Are Flowers?
were first published in
To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words
. Copyright © 1969 by Robert Nemiroff and Robert Nemiroff, as Executor of the Estate of Lorraine Hansberry.

What Use Are Flowers?
appeared in slightly different form in
Works in Progress—
Copyright © 1969, 1972 by Robert Nemiroff and Robert Nemiroff, as Executor of the Estate of Lorraine Hansberry.

Notes on “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Steal Away” from
Songs of the Civil War
by Irwin Silber. Copyright © 1960 by Irwin Silber. Bonanza Books, a division of Crown Publishers. Reprinted by permission of Irwin Silber.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Hansberry, Lorraine, 1930–1965.
Les Blancs: the collected last plays of Lorraine Hansberry.
CONTENTS
: Les Blancs.—The drinking gourd.—What use are flowers?
I. Hansberry, Lorraine, 1930–1965. The drinking gourd, 1972. II. Hansberry, Lorraine, 1930–1965. What use are flowers? 1972. III. Title.
PS3515.A515B5 1972 812’.5’4 69-16462
eISBN: 978-0-307-81556-9

v3.1

I
N
M
EMORIAM
Robert Nemiroff (1929–91)

To Bobby with love
Mili and Leo with gratitude
Hattie Handy Manning for unswerving support

AND
NELSON MANDELA
with the fervent hope that the sun
rising over the new South Africa
will infuse the world with its glow

FOREWORD

I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough and—I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.…

If anything should happen—before ’tis done—may I trust that all commas and periods will be placed and someone will complete my thoughts—

This last should be the least difficult since there are so many who think as I do—

—L
ORRAINE
H
ANSBERRY

The second excerpt of Lorraine Hansberry’s above comes from an undated journal entry, presumably written near the end of the playwright’s life. The first, however, was written not at the end, but at the beginning of her career. These thoughts were delivered on March 1, 1959, before an audience of her peers at a conference on “The Negro Writer and His Roots.”

Two weeks later, her first play,
A Raisin in the Sun
, opened on Broadway. Two months following that date, she became the youngest American playwright, the fifth woman,
*
the only black writer ever
to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play of the Year.

Six years later, at age thirty-four, she was dead of cancer.

We are indebted to the late Robert Nemiroff, Hansberry’s former husband and literary executor, to whom she entrusted all her works, as the person most singularly responsible for perpetuating her legacy. He was not alone: actors, directors, other stage professionals, journalists, critics, and, above all, audiences have kept the playwright’s works alive. But Nemiroff spent the twenty-six years that he survived Hansberry meticulously placing the “periods and commas” necessary to provide the living evidence that the artist who died too soon was a major American writer.

My Foreword here is a tribute to them both. For if in her short life the prolific Hansberry created far more than her now-classic first work,
A Raisin in the Sun
, and her second,
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window
—which was playing on Broadway at the time of her death—the very richness of her output deserved the commitment of one equally dedicated to effecting wide recognition of the extent and range of her legacy.

Shortly after the playwright’s death, Bob Nemiroff began the process of making her works widely known by creating—in dramatic and literary form—a portrait of the artist drawn entirely from her own words. He called both the play and the book
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
(
YGB
)—a phrase of commendation taken from Hansberry’s last speech, delivered to young winners of a United Negro College Fund writing contest.

The collection of the artist’s range and genius provided in
YGB
was drawn from her unpublished plays in progress and from completed essays, speeches, fiction, and poetry as well as from the play through which she first gained recognition,
A Raisin in the Sun
, and the one that closed on Broadway on the day she died,
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window
.

Among the plays Hansberry left were several incomplete versions of
Les Blancs
, the title play of this new Vintage edition of
The Collected Last Plays. Les Blancs
is the only Hansberry work that Nemiroff adapted into a final version; its dramatic life continues to evolve as the values of the play are directorially realized on stage through successive productions. In her comprehensive Introduction to this
Vintage collection, Margaret B. Wilkerson, Hansberry’s biographer, provides a history of each of the works as part of her critical treatment of each; Robert Nemiroff earlier provided “A Critical Background” that includes invaluable personal accounts of the emergence and development of each work in the playwright’s consciousness.

The background notes that Nemiroff wrote for
Les Blancs
serve virtually as a prologue for the play. Through his exposition, the realization can be gained of a key aspect of Hansberry’s life that is germane to all her writings.

Lorraine Hansberry walked in dazzling history—was a creature of it, a portrayer and interpreter of extraordinary times. Her works—in keeping with her philosophy of the obligation of the artist—illuminate her world and ours, and chart directions. Hence the frequent critical references to this playwright’s “prophetic voice.”

Next year (1995) will be the thirtieth anniversary of Hansberry’s death. In this year (1994) of the new edition of
Les Blancs
, the sun has just risen on the installation of a black President of South Africa following more than a century of turmoil, blood, and agony in that exquisitely beautiful country.

This playwright was one of the first African American dramatists to create a major work addressing the issues at stake in colonial Africa and what surely lay ahead for colonizers and colonized in the inevitable struggles for liberation. She remains one of the handful of playwrights in any country outside Africa who have, to date, addressed this subject matter.

Nemiroff began his notes on
Les Blancs
and its author with an account of Lorraine Hansberry’s immersion in African history from an early age. These were not experiences shared by most African Americans—and certainly not by Americans in general.

But it is her own direct exposure to major participants in the United States that was most remarkable. As a very young woman, she served first as a reporter and then as an associate editor for Paul Robeson’s newspaper,
Freedom
. The staff shared offices with brilliant African Americans involved in the liberation struggles of Africa—involved at high cost. Several, like Robeson, were cruelly Red-baited before, during, and after the McCarthy period; some went into exile.

BOOK: Les Blancs
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