Lorraine Hansberry...comes alive in this comprehensive biography. Colbert...pulls from Hansberry's distinctly separate public and private lives to produce a fully formed portrait of this brilliant, complex woman ... [an] illuminating...vivid biography ... A scholarly yet accessible account of the life of a singular American artist and activist. Recommended for enthusiasts of American literature, and anyone who is interested in learning more about this transformational woman, whose vision for the country is as relevant today as ever.
Here is Hansberry resurrected from the archives, from her scripts, scraps and drafts. Through a series of close readings, Colbert examines 'how her writing, published and unpublished, offers a road map to negotiate Black suffering in the past and present' ... Colbert adds detail and dimension to Hansberry’s work ... Colbert’s study is loving, lavishly detailed, repetitive and a little stilted in the telling. (The notes, however, are splendid—fluent, rich and full of a feeling of discovery; here she permits herself to speak more freely.) The book circles a few points very dutifully—even as we feel Colbert itching to rove. She has a habit of making arresting asides and then refusing to follow their trail ... It’s not incidental, I think, that these asides often have to do with desire. Colbert pays forensic attention here to scripts, articles and stories, but takes less intellectual interest in the jottings and journals—to the self that was feverish, exultant, wary in its sexuality. The thinking gets pleasantly tousled and unsure here[.]
Reading Colbert’s book makes one want to return to Hansberry’s unique voice, to read her works more carefully. A failing of Radical Vision is that it does not reprint, at length, more examples of Hansberry’s prose (early in her career she used pseudonyms and these pieces are difficult to find). Colbert quotes from some of these pieces, using them to analyze pivotal points in Hansberry’s life. Having them reprinted in an appendix would have provided valuable context. Another glaring omission: no mention of a key influence in Hansberry’s work, that of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey ... The work of Baldwin is enjoying a well-deserved revival today. Colbert’s illuminating study suggests that a Hansberry revival would be just as welcome.