...Perry mines Hansberry’s life, her indefatigable radicalism, and her queerness, and she prods us to consider what this fuller portrait of a categorically transgressive figure reveals about the state of social justice today ... While Hansberry’s family lived comfortably...she quickly learned, as a child, that her relative prominence was no armor against a racist world ... Jim Crow threatened all black Americans, class or any other scraping of privilege be damned, profoundly shaped Hansberry’s broad black consciousness. Years later, at a rally in 1963, she declared that 'between the Negro intelligentsia, the Negro middle class, and the Negro this-and-that—we are one people. … As far as we are concerned, we are represented by the Negroes in the streets of Birmingham!' ... In fitting herself into Hansberry’s story with autobiographical elements, Perry offers a bracing air of familiarity and urgency around the artist, whose legacy has faded since her death from cancer in 1965. By crisscrossing then and now, Perry insists how important it is that our connection to this history—to Hansberry—survive.
Imani Perry, a Philadelphia resident and Princeton University’s Hughes-Rogers professor of African-American studies, considers Hansberry her muse. As a child who spent her summers in Chicago, Perry was exposed to the playwright’s work at a young age; as Perry grew, so did her admiration of Hansberry — which is why, Perry said, she wrote her new book, Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry.
Imani Perry, a prolific African-American studies scholar at Princeton, is spot on when she writes in her new book, Looking for Lorraine, that Hansberry 'has had far too little written about her' ... Yet it is difficult to assess a book that admits within its first two paragraphs that it has no idea what it is. Perry concedes that what she has written is 'less a biography than a genre yet to be named' ... Looking for Lorraine is something between a fan’s notes and an academic monograph, less an unpacking of the archive to reveal the life than an exercise in putting the archive in historical context ... Perry makes a welcome case for a fresh assessment of Hansberry’s nondramatic works ... Yet much of the material Perry discusses is drawn from Hansberry’s published writings, which might be a negligible point if the body of work she left behind were not easily consumable over a matter of days ... I frequently found myself wishing that she’d had more confidence, either to break through her skittishness surrounding Hansberry’s queerness or simply to devote the book to her adulation for Hansberry’s work.
Perry’s title Looking for Lorraine references Isaac Julien’s New Queer Cinema film Looking For Langston, and the book’s eleven chapters mimic the film in execution, in the sense that they do more than merely offer a linear grasp ... While structured around examinations of Hansberry’s journals, manuscripts, and the early radical newspapers for which she worked—and her own invaluable lit scholar soundbites on those—Perry is as committed to the unknown as she is to dutiful research, and she tastefully intertwines her own biography ... At 200 pages, Looking for Lorraine is the lengthiest Hansberry biography available today. It does more to evoke Hansberry personally than the other scholarship on her work ... Perry is unwavering in her choice to convey the whole of Hansberry’s life ... It is a relief that it is Perry who is the first to access the Hansberry papers in their fullest form to date.
In tender, elegant prose, Perry establishes her literary mission, which is to honor the ambition of the late Lorraine Hansberry ... Looking for Lorraine is a refreshing and unusual life study that gives readers insight into the challenges, temptations, and limitations inherent in biography itself ... The writer risks flattening out nuances, or imposing order or logic where it doesn’t exist, for the sake of narrative coherence. Perry avoids the pitfalls by allowing Hansberry her contradictions, and leaving some mysteries intact ... Perry introduces us to Hansberry’s rich interior world ... It is Perry’s own vision that ultimately makes Looking for Lorraine an evocative and resounding experience.
This is a deeply personal book, less a biography than perhaps a 'third person memoir' or 'homage.' Perry infuses the narrative with a sense of urgency and enthusiasm because she believes Hansberry has something to teach us in these 'complicated times.' Impressively, she tells her subject’s story in a tightly packed 256 pages ... Throughout this animated and inspiring biography, Perry reminds us that the 'battles Lorraine fought are still before us: exploitation of the poor, racism, neocolonialism, homophobia, and patriarchy.'
Imani Perry captures the life of the creator of the iconic play, A Raisin in the Sun, in her book, Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry ... an interdisciplinary scholar and critic of racial, feminist, American, and hip-hop history and culture, Perry wanted to write a book that 'depended upon the kind of research that all of my writing depends on,' she says. Her exhaustive account chronicles Hansberry’s birth in Chicago to college-educated parents: her mother, Nannie, a teacher and ward leader, and Carl, her politically active, real estate entrepreneur father, who was dubbed 'the Kitchenette King.' Hansberry’s uncle, William Leo Hansberry, was a pioneering scholar of African Studies at Howard University. Perry paints a compelling, contrapuntal portrait of Hansberry: a black bourgeoisie-born champion of the working and underclass; a celebrity who endured bouts of loneliness, a Harlemite who sermonized on the streets, a bohemian resident of Greenwich Village, and a race woman who was a Lesbian, and married a Jewish man, Robert Nemiroff, who also became her first literary executor.