Book Review: LOOKING FOR LORRAINE, a can’t miss biography of this fiery playwright

Perry - Looking for Lorraine (1)Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hainsberry
Imani Perry

Imani Perry described Looking for Lorraine as a “third-person memoir.” That seems a fitting for this book which is worth reading for anyone who would like to know more about this interesting playwright and civil rights activist.

While Perry does pinpoint events in Lorraine’s life that affected her writing, she leaves her biography to others. Instead, she focuses on her experiences as part of the first black family integrating a white neighborhood. She traces Lorraine’s studies at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, including a summer program in Ajijic, Mexico, where she developed her commitment to socialism and widened her acceptance of various lifestyles.

After dropping out of college, Lorraine moved to New York where she lived a vibrant life working at a magazine and engaging fully as an activist. However, her beliefs often put her against the traditional civil rights movement since she had a socialist view of power dynamics. Soon, Lorraine met Bobby Nemiroff, and they were June 20, 1953, after spending a day protesting the Rosenberg executions.

Although Lorraine and Bobby were lifelong partners, she had relationships with women that informed her writing as well as close friendships with James Baldwin and Nina Simone. Especially after her fame following the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine used her platform to advocate for equality, not just in the United States but around the world. Sadly, she died at only thirty-four of pancreatic cancer.

Perry connects all of these episodes to her plays and unpublished writings, providing close readings with clear insights. Additionally, she offers analysis of other works published at the time that informed Lorraine. Her writing is engaging and revealing as well as personal.

I was embarrassed to realize how little I knew about Lorraine Hansberry who was such an important playwright and civil rights activist, but gratified to learn so much from Imani Perry’s “third person memoir.” I especially enjoyed reading the analysis of her works and the works of others who influenced her. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in biography, literature, and/or civil rights.