Lorraine Hansberry’s Queer Archive

The playwright’s lesbian fiction has gone largely unpublished. But she wanted you to read it.

Alec Pollak

David Attie, contact sheets of Lorraine Hansberry portrait session, 1959. David Attie/Archive Photos via Getty Images.

With each passing year, Lorraine Hansberry rests more comfortably on her laurels. She is secure in the pantheon of twentieth-century literary greats, unequivocally a foremother of Black American drama. This has not always been the case: Hansberry died young, a one-hit wonder and widely misunderstood. A Raisin in the Sun, her 1959 play about a Black American family’s struggle against housing segregation, made her the first Broadway-produced Black woman playwright and the youngest-ever winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. Hansberry’s politics may have been far-left, but audiences understood Raisin as a liberal paean to assimilation. As Black art and politics took an increasingly militant turn in the years after Hansberry’s death, her popularity waned. Thanks to the tireless work of her literary estate—headed in its early years by her ex-husband, Robert Nemiroff—Hansberry never slipped entirely out of print or public consciousness, but her afterlife has been full of false starts. Critics, eager to explain away a young Black woman who challenged the limits of their understanding, have been quick to write off Hansberry’s oeuvre beyond Raisin as “the poor remnants of an unfinished life.” As a result, Hansberry’s life and influence have come in and out of focus since her death in 1965: she has been rediscovered each decade, celebrated, and then sidelined anew.

Today, we are in the midst of a Hansberry renaissance that one hopes will be her last. Since 2014, three biographies, two documentaries, and a half-dozen exhibitions, commemorative works, and awards-nominated theater revivals have recovered what Soyica Diggs Colbert has called Hansberry’s “radical vision” as an enduring source of wisdom for the present. For the first time, Hansberry’s sexuality has emerged as a meaningful component of her identity, one that demands consideration in any account of her life and work. The timing isn’t a coincidence: in 2014, the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust avowed publicly that Hansberry was a lesbian and greenlit an unprecedented number of projects. Since then, ten years of commemorative works have reinvented Hansberry as a prophet of feminism, postcolonialism, LGBTQ rights, and Black nationalism who lived an extraordinarily full life, despite her untimely death. With unprecedented access to Hansberry’s archive and an engaged, obliging literary estate, the story of Hansberry’s multidimensional life seems finally within reach.

When she wrote about homosexuality, Hansberry was not always the confident visionary we have come to know.

But the work of understanding her life is far from over. Recent biographers have acknowledged Hansberry’s lesbianism, but they have not plumbed the depths of her queer archive or reckoned with her sexuality on Hansberry’s own terms: as the “great personal contradiction” of her life. Hansberry explored this “great personal contradiction” across a series of lesbian-themed stories, four of which she published in the early gay magazines The Ladder and ONE under the pen name Emily Jones. These four stories, along with snippets of diary entries and letters that have been quoted by her latest biographers, are the primary materials from which contemporary critics have gleaned insight into Hansberry’s sexuality. But Hansberry wrote these stories during the self-professed “childhood” of her homosexuality, and they are but a small part of her queer corpus. The richer story of Hansberry’s lesbianism can be found in a handful of unpublished stories and plays, housed among her papers at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in which she explores the evolution of her homosexuality, its role in her life, and its compatibility with the other dimensions of her identity. Unlike her key writings on feminism, anticolonialism, and Blackness, many of which have been published and pored over, these stories remain largely untouched.

The Hansberry proffered by the past decade’s reappraisals is fearless and fully formed—as clear-eyed and analytically astute about “the question of homosexuality” as she is about feminism, colonialism, and Black liberation. “She was a feminist before the feminist movement,” explains Imani Perry. “She identified as a lesbian and thought about LGBT organizing before there was a gay rights movement. She was an anti-colonialist before independences had been won in Africa and the Caribbean.” But when she wrote about homosexuality, Hansberry was not always the confident visionary we have come to know. Throughout her queer archive, we encounter her uncharacteristically cowed by social convention and plagued by self-doubt. The antiracist, intersectional vision that Hansberry took care to foreground in writings published under her own name seems absent. Before Hansberry’s ongoing renaissance, these lesbian writings might very well have fortified the myth of a poor and “unfinished life.” But the travails of Hansberry’s journey to self-recognition are not nearly as inscrutable as they once were. Since Hansberry’s death, gay people have entered public life en masse. Black lesbian trailblazers writing in the 1970s and 1980s—Audre Lorde, Anita Cornwell, Barbara Smith, and others—defiantly claimed space for themselves at the intersection of homophile, feminist, and Black radical organizing, and subsequent generations have furthered their work. The reading public is now better equipped than it was even ten years ago to appreciate Hansberry’s struggle to embrace the full scope of her identity. “People want more,” writes Perry, “and we deserve it.”

Hansberry deserves it, too—to be seen and celebrated not despite her struggle, but for it. She yearned to reconcile her public self as a trailblazing race woman and her private self as a lesbian. In her final years, she took steps toward doing so: she donned a label (“homosexual”), moved out of the home she shared with her husband, fell in love, and got a divorce. But reconciliation of the kind Hansberry sought requires both private self-acceptance and public recognition, and she died before she had the chance to live publicly as the Black lesbian intellectual she was. She longed to be read as we are now equipped to read her, with the accumulated wisdom of over fifty years of social struggle. At last, we are poised to afford her the recognition she craved, by bearing witness to the tumultuous, inspiring journey preserved in her queer archive.

engraved on hansberry’s tombstone is a line from The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which premiered on Broadway just months before her death at thirty-four: “The ‘why’ of why we are here is an intrigue for adolescents; the ‘how’ is what commands the living.” If Hansberry came to find “why” a juvenile form of questioning, it is no surprise that she would also come to think back on the 1950s as the “childhood” of her homosexuality. In the summer of 1954, Hansberry was twenty-four, married, and panicking. Her nascent lesbianism had become impossible to ignore. Why was she drawn to women, despite having a loving and attentive husband? What was homosexuality anyway, and how did it come about?

Hansberry’s antiracist and socialist activism had accustomed her to political risk, but the McCarthy-era persecution of radicals and queers brought with it a new kind of desperation. “It is increasingly more difficult not to be afraid,” she wrote, in a letter to an unknown addressee, as “the present political developments in the country…have also become personal to me.” Racial violence, intimate and devastating as it was, was something Hansberry knew how to name and fight—something she had long fought alongside kin and comrades. These recent “political developments” felt different. She did not name homosexuality outright, but the letter is replete with oblique references: she could not share her fears with her husband, she explained, because they would “disturb and confuse” him; she had struggled for weeks with “emotional suppression,” the “most taxing experience a human being can go through.” Most tellingly, she used a word that, within Hansberry’s corpus, always refers to her homosexuality: “contradiction.” “My personal struggle to overcome one great personal contradiction in myself pervades my entire relationship with life,” she wrote. “I need help terribly.” Homosexuality was not yet an identity Hansberry claimed, much less a “cause,” as she would later call it, that she subscribed to; it was a panicked, ill-defined secret, a conflict between who Hansberry desperately wanted to be and who she feared she was.

The play The Apples of Autumn (1955), Hansberry’s earliest literary effort to make sense of her inner struggle, is preoccupied with the “why” of homosexuality in the most disheartening way. Homosexuality is a “social problem,” akin to “alcoholism or dope addiction or prostitution,” that might be solved as one might cure disease: by identifying and addressing its cause. Apples was never produced or published, and Hansberry soon denounced it, listing it among her “magnificent failures.” I suspect she found its analysis too heavy-handed and its verdict too damning—none of her subsequent lesbian-themed writings issue a moral reprimand so severe. Hansberry believed in the unique power of human beings to “impose the reason for life on life,” and she was not content to grieve her alleged “depravity” for long. By the following year, she had resolved to extend her belief in the goodness and beauty of human life to herself. “I guess it’s…my particular sickness,” she wrote of her lesbianism, and then recanted: “oh damn that—I ain’t sick.” Maybe, just maybe, she realized, the miseries of homosexuality were the consequences of society’s cruelty, not signs that homosexuality itself needed to be fixed.

When Hansberry revisited the subject of homosexuality in her next play, Flowers for the General (1956), she had become both more ambivalent and more hopeful. Her queerness had changed from a solvable problem to an intractable fact, less damning if no less puzzling. Set in a college dormitory, Flowers dramatizes the radical potential of everyday decisions—a theme that the playwright-cum-organizer would return to throughout her work—and the enormous challenge of imagining a committed lesbian life in the mid-1950s. When Maxine, a popular senior, foregoes an opportunity to publicly denounce American militarism, Marcia insists that Maxine has the power to change minds: “It would have got through to them, affected them that you could feel that serious about it,” she says, “[but] you’ve made it clear that it isn’t…very important because you gave in.”

Maxine’s first failure of nerve anticipates a larger one. Although she is a lesbian, Maxine intends to marry her fiancé. “And you plan to go through life withouts (sic) ever touching any one you really love?” Marcia asks. “How very ugly. I don’t know that I care very much for such a world.” Whereas Apples condemned homosexuality as a social ill in want of a cure, Flowers takes it for granted as a fact of identity to be accepted or denied, hidden or claimed, thereby making sexuality available to understanding as its own axis of oppression. Unlike Hansberry’s later, more uncompromising protagonists, Maxine declines the opportunity to forge her own path—but, through Marcia, Hansberry plants the seed of possibility. By 1956, Hansberry had accepted her sexuality, but she still struggled to envision a connection between lesbianism and the rest of her life: her marriage, her relationships, her activism, and her art. Her subsequent stories explore the possibilities, risks, and rewards of integrating these spheres.

hansberry changed her life dramatically in 1957 and 1958. She shifted away from the agonizing, self-flagellating question of “why” she was what she was and toward “how” she would live in the world as, in her words, a “heterosexually married lesbian.” “It simply does not bother me in any pathological way (despite what the novels say),” she wrote to her ex-lover Molly Cook, “that I do not truly understand all of it.” The dark night of her pathologization had passed—she knew she wasn’t sick, and she would try to change herself no longer—but acting on that knowledge was far from easy. “If I have seemed neurotic sometimes…that is not because I am undecided about what I most desire,” she explained to Cook. “It is simply that I have not figured out how much I am willing to give for what is only hypothetically known as ‘happiness.’”

During these years, Hansberry confided in Nemiroff, opened their marriage, and began dating women, but her predicament still troubled her. She had broken free from the insidious myth of homosexuality’s inherent immorality, but she still was not sure if living publicly as a lesbian was morally compatible with the life she had committed herself to lead. Hansberry had, as Perry writes, “scandalized her mother”—a stalwart capitalist and Republican—by campaigning for progressive presidential candidates, writing for Communist newspapers, and liaising with all manner of far-left activists, but nothing about those activities, in her own estimation at least, defied what Hansberry had been taught as a child: that “there were two things which were never to be betrayed: the family and the race.” Her parents were race people through and through; they fought tirelessly for racial justice their entire lives, and they instilled in their children the necessity of doing the same. Hansberry may have eschewed their methods, but she believed strongly that she was honoring their legacy in her own socialist, feminist, anti-imperialist way.

Living publicly as a lesbian would have been an entirely different matter,” Perry writes. By the end of her life, Hansberry came to believe strongly that the matter of homosexual rights required her public backing, but in the mid-1950s, she felt she had a moral duty to keep her homosexuality private. She knew she ought to have the right to organize her personal life as she pleased, but if “the question of homosexuality” was incompatible with the causes of racial and economic justice—if a commitment to homosexual rights would come at such a high cost—she was not about to give it pride of place. At the same time, the work of embracing her homosexuality in private and disavowing it in public was wearing. She began to suspect that her family and comrades had their own moral duty to expand their understanding of society’s “vital questions.” Was she wrong, or were they?

Writing under the pseudonym Emily Jones, Hansberry turned to prose fiction to, in her words, “tell the truth from all its sides.” At first glance, Jones differs drastically from the Hansberry we have come to know. Most strikingly, Jones herself, as well as most of her characters, is white. “It seems odd,” writes Perry, “because it is not as though Lorraine thought race was superfluous when it came to her sexuality.” Perhaps, Perry speculates, Hansberry felt she could not simultaneously tackle the two “great weight[s]”—what James Baldwin called “the sexual-moral light” and the “Negro problem.” Or perhaps she sought to satisfy the predominantly white audiences of The Ladder and ONE, where the Jones stories were published. It’s true that, at the time, the nation-wide homophile movement was in its infancy, largely white and middle class, and that an organized Black lesbian movement, with its own community networks and periodicals, would arrive only later. But these explanations overlook Hansberry’s self-professed commitment never to write for the “already persuaded.” Rather than simply omitting Blackness from the Jones stories, Hansberry strategically engages race to explore how homosexual rights fit in with the vital questions of antiracism and economic justice that organized her public life.

As Hansberry’s career took off, she became both more confident and more depressed than she had ever been.

“Chanson du Konallis,” published in 1958, features a white Southern heiress mockingly named Konalia Martin-Whitside Heplin, II, whose racism and classism abut her internalized homophobia. Terrified of sexual deviance, Konnie wields her wealth and whiteness as though they can somehow protect her from her unruly desires. Her self-hate makes her hateful. She is not like them, she tells herself, not like “one of those” working-class, club-going lesbians who sit around “ogling colored girl singers.”

When we deanonymize Emily Jones and recognize Konnie as a Black feminist’s creation, we can understand her not as an unfortunate autobiographical projection, necessitated by the whiteness of Hansberry’s readership, but, rather, as a brilliant narrative sleight of hand. Like Konnie, Hansberry struggled to accept her sexuality in the face of familial expectation; Konnie gives voice to Hansberry’s own fear of “pleasure” and her sense of duty to those “poor old souls” of generations past. But the autobiographical thread ends there: Konnie is a stiff-upper-lip, convention-adhering, hierarchy-abiding, racist WASP. By planting her own fraught relationship to queer desire and familial duty in a character utterly unlike herself, Hansberry does not identify with Konnie’s broader circumstances but, rather, marshals those broader circumstances to disavow the one thing they share: homophobic self-hate. If, in Konnie, homophobia and racism are a compatible pair, then homophobia was undoubtedly incompatible with the antiracist values Hansberry had been raised to embody. Through the comically overwrought and problematic Konnie, Hansberry decides that homophobia does not belong with her but elsewhere, alongside other bigotries. She also issues a challenge to her predominantly white, middle-class lesbian readers: if they recoil from Konnie’s homophobia, then they must take it upon themselves to consider seriously the incompatibility of homophile activism and whatever racism or classism persists within them. Homosexual, racial, and economic justice cannot, Hansberry concludes, be tackled separately.

Hansberry’s narrative experimentation in the Emily Jones stories foretold her controversial, widely misunderstood final play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which tackled matters of racism, sexism, sex work, economic injustice, and more through a predominantly white cast. Sign defied early viewers’ expectation that, given her identity and success with A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry would attend solely to Black characters and matters of Black life—that she would stay in her lane, as it were. She pushed back, insisting on her right and her capacity to render any character and tackle any theme. A few early critics appreciated Sign’s “illuminatingly contradictory” characters, but most dismissed the play as an unpolished foray outside Hansberry’s prescribed wheelhouse. The play’s 2023 Broadway revival—the first since its failed run in 1964—afforded an opportunity to reconsider the subtle, potent vision behind Hansberry’s “illuminatingly contradictory” characters. It also afforded an opportunity to witness how viewers’ restrictive expectations of a young, Black woman playwright have changed—and how they have not. Contemporary viewers have not, for example, been as baffled or affronted at a Black playwright’s depiction of white characters as they once were, but the play’s revival has garnered much of the same criticism regarding what New York Times theater critic Jesse Green, in his review of the revival, called its “readiness for the stage.” It “isn’t quite coherent,” he wrote, “[and] it’s hard to discern a satisfying emotional shape” amidst the “clutter.” The team behind the play’s revival, writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Abbey White, suspects that these aesthetic qualms boil down to the same persistent discomfort with a young Black woman’s willingness to write “a story not led by someone who looks like her.” Hansberry, frustrated with Raisin’s reception, used Sign to reject the mandate of self-portraiture so often foisted upon Black writers. Throughout the Emily Jones stories, we see Hansberry’s designs in Sign begin to take shape. In them, she neither shies away from Baldwin’s two “great weight[s]” nor caters to white audiences but, rather, experiments with the potentials of her craft, laying the groundwork for what Soyica Diggs Colbert calls Sign’s “direct challenge to white liberals” just a few years later.

as hansberry’s career took off, she became both more confident and more depressed than she had ever been. The runaway success of A Raisin in the Sun made her financially independent. She moved into her own apartment on Waverly Place and continued dating. Her marital arrangement afforded her great freedom: she and Nemiroff lived separately, while their marriage helped her keep up appearances. She immersed herself in the lesbian life of Greenwich Village while maintaining her familial ties and activist commitments. But she was still unhappy. Would she force a reconciliation between her feminism, her race pride, and her lesbianism by publicly claiming them all? This terrifying question boiled down to another: Would she leave Nemiroff?

Among Hansberry’s recent champions, there is a tendency to minimize her marriage to Nemiroff as a mutually agreed-upon formality—a necessary constraint, given the era—and therefore to minimize the significance of their divorce as well. McCarthyism had scarcely ended, Hansberry was already on the FBI watchlist, and, in the words of biographer Charles J. Shields, “monogamous heterosexual relationships were equated with the American Way.” The life she claimed for herself—living independently from her husband and dating women—was already plenty defiant. And yet, her marriage felt like a concession: in the eyes of the public, she was still a wife. It reminded her that she could not be who she was, and that so many people she loved—her political comrades, even—would reject her if she told them the truth.

In the Emily Jones story “The Anticipation of Eve,” Hansberry set her sights on these comrades: Greenwich Village-dwelling, self-satisfied white liberals who have “kicked out of their lives” so much of that “troublesome paraphernalia of polite society” that they should be able to reject homophobia, too. Her protagonist, Rita, yearns to tell her cousins about the love she shares with another woman. “Why did I want to tell them so badly?” Rita wonders. It was a question Hansberry had to contend with, too, as she found that sequestering her homosexuality was not the solution she had hoped it would be. Rita’s partnership is wonderful, but humans do not love in isolation. “I guess you just want to tell people about what is important and lovely in your life,” Rita thinks to herself. “It finishes you out, makes you whole when people know that you love someone.” But an offhand homophobic remark derails and devastates her. “It was clear to me why I could hate myself,” Rita reflects, “the ‘clean’ were still casting out the lepers.”

Hansberry no longer hated herself, but she hated how secrecy muzzled her protest. Her belief in the power of individual agency persisted, and her marriage to Nemiroff reminded her that she wasn’t doing all she could to disabuse her comrades of their hypocrisy. She believed she had a moral duty—to herself and to others—to create possibility by living an uncharted life. As she wrote in Flowers for the General a few years before: “It would have…affected them that you could feel that serious about it,” but, Marcia insists to Maxine, “you’ve made it clear that it isn’t…very important because you gave in.” To change others—to really change them—she would have to show them her full self.

In 1962, Hansberry’s struggle reached a fever pitch. She was living alone outside the city, in Croton-on-Hudson, working on The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, with ample time to agonize. “Will have to do something about Bob,” she wrote in August, “the years go on and on.” “No more ‘excuses,’” she told herself in December, “and no more apologies.” This daily tumult continued into the following year. “As for this homosexuality thing,” she wrote in her journal in November 1963, “I am committed to it. But its childhood is over…I will create my life—not just accept it.” Two hours later, she returned to her journal. “What did I say above about ‘creating my life—’?” she wondered, her optimism tempered. “Sometimes the alternatives are not exactly what they should be.” By the next month, she was back at a dreadful low. “Why am I alone?” she lamented. “I am now haunted by last year’s vow: that I would not be in this situation this year no matter what. Well, I am in it.” She flagellated herself for her reticence.

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In her later, unpublished gay fiction, Hansberry weighed the ethics of her own decision to stay married as a lesbian against the frightening prospect of an isolated but honest life. Unlike in The Apples of Autumn and Flowers for the General, closeted fiancées and long-suffering lesbian wives no longer get the benefit of the doubt. Instead, in “The Other Crimes” and “Moonstrike,” they incur Hansberry’s scorn. She makes clear that these women, by suppressing their desires and assimilating into heterosexual life, have left the brave ones to fend for themselves; their reasons for doing so are unsatisfactory, no longer sympathetic. “I am not interested in the little games that frustrated housewives…play,” says one woman to her ex-lover, who abandoned their partnership for a safe, conventional marriage. “I’ve lived a hell of a courageous life.” Hansberry’s sexuality was not a “little game” to her, but she feared she was comporting her life as though it were.

The questions of individual responsibility that first preoccupied her in Flowers for the General recur in “The Other Crimes,” this time for Charlotte, a professor and middle-aged divorcée facing down the unknown. Charlotte castigates herself for dismissing a frightened lesbian student decades earlier. Homosexuality is “unnatural and childish,” Charlotte had told the student, bidding her “never even think let alone speak of [it] again.” “I could have…held her hand,” Charlotte mourns. “I could have…taught her that she was not some creature of the devil, not a freak, not sick!” Marcia’s tentative belief in Flowers for the General that one life, courageously lived, enables others—a belief dismissed in the earlier play for its supposed naïveté—has become Charlotte’s guiding purpose. By af‍firming the gravity of Charlotte’s failure but also her determination to make amends, Hansberry extends belated comfort to the protagonists of her earlier works who struggled to envision fulfilling lives.

Hansberry and Nemiroff divorced in March of 1964, just ten months before Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer. In her biographies, the divorce tends to get lost in the flurry of the final months of her life. She was racing to finish The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window between hospital stays that left her incapacitated. The symptoms of her cancer appeared in April 1963 and, although she did not know her condition was terminal, death was on her mind by spring of 1964, emboldening her to take personal and artistic risks. With The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, she defied the public’s expectations for her art, revealing that she had no plans whatsoever to confine herself to self-portraiture. And in her private life, amidst everything, she made divorce a priority, even as she kept it a secret. (The public learned of it once she died.) Divorce was something she did for herself—a mark of her commitment to “create” a life, rather than just “accept” one.

so long as we rely on the small handful of published Emily Jones stories to make sense of Hansberry’s journey to lesbian self-recognition, Hansberry remains frozen in time, in that “childhood” she grew beyond. It is in her unpublished writings that she reveals the culmination of her struggle and her hard-won relief, resolve, and vision for the future. At the Schomburg Center, buried amid various drafts, exists the front matter for a previously unidentified collection of lesbian-themed writings that Hansberry devised sometime in the early 1960s but was unable to see through to publication. Entitled “From Notes to Atthis” and attributed to Emily Jones, the materials open with an epigraph from Sappho: “I loved thee, Atthis. / Once, long, long ago.” The table of contents, which Hansberry titled “The Notes,” lists two plays and nine short stories drawn from her writings of the last decade. The plays, Flowers for the General and Andromeda, the Thief, are available to the public. Under the subheading “Published,” Hansberry lists the four stories that appeared in ONE and The Ladder. And then there are five short stories—“The Mountain,” “The Other Crimes,” “Moonstrike,” “An Old Tale,” and “Audrey”—available to researchers by request, which await attention.

Flowers for the General is the earliest “Note” and furnishes the collection with its copyright date (1956), but the other pieces span five years at least: Hansberry finished Andromeda, the Thief in 1961, and, although the unpublished stories are not dated, their characters, plots, and preoccupations evoke Hansberry’s during the last three years of her life. Hansberry declared the “childhood” of her homosexuality “over” in 1963, but she did not disavow it. Instead, she elected to preserve the full, “unassailable dimensionality” of her protagonists’ journeys toward lesbian identity—uncertainty, ambivalence, experimentation, and all—in “From Notes to Atthis.”

As her current renaissance attests, Hansberry was indeed ahead of her time, but not because she never feared, erred, or doubted, or because of some courageous but solitary embrace of lesbian identity. The full scope of Hansberry’s ambitious, intersectional vision lives on in the tumult and contradiction of her lesbian-themed writings, not despite them. She agonized because she refused to settle: she was not content to reap the rewards of her bohemian arrangement, living alone and dating discreetly; she longed to be known and respected by her comrades, race, and country for who she loved. Hansberry’s is the intellectual and emotional turmoil of one preparing to “openly rebel before the oppressed community of which they are a part can offer them significant support and sustenance,” as the historian Martin Duberman writes of select midcentury homophile activists. “From Notes to Atthis” attests that, at the end of her life, Hansberry avowed the importance of her full journey—of her early doubt, abiding fear, and ultimate conviction—as a tale worth telling. The collection’s title page, copyright, epigraph, and table of contents preserve her intentions: she lovingly and painstakingly curated her “Notes” for public eyes.

Contemporary critics, biographers, and archivists have deliberated how to engage Hansberry’s sexuality—what terms to use to describe her identity, whether to “out” her, and how to speak on her behalf—but “From Notes to Atthis” offers one of Hansberry’s own answers to these questions. The collection affords a precious opportunity to offer Hansberry the recognition she craved, and to do so on her terms. Perhaps most importantly, the existence of “From Notes to Atthis” confirms Hansberry’s desire to be read as a way to heal the rift between her private and public selves. In “The Anticipation of Eve,” Rita gives voice to one of Hansberry’s own longings: “When people know that you love someone,” she thinks, “it finishes you out, makes you whole.” It was Hansberry’s task to love; it is our task to know, by reading Hansberry as she longed to be.

Alec Pollak is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Cornell University. She is at work on a biography of Joanna Russ.
Originally published:
September 18, 2023

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