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Lynn Nottage & More to Take Part in the Launch of the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative

The Initiative includes a statue of Lorraine Hansberry that will tour the nation in 2022-2023 to raise public awareness of the full breadth of her work and teachings.

Lynn Nottage & More to Take Part in the Launch of the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative

Today, The Lillys announced the launch of the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative, which aims to honor the great American playwright and civil rights leader's legacy while investing in those following in her footsteps.

The Initiative includes a statue of Lorraine Hansberry that will tour the nation in 2022-2023 to raise public awareness of the full breadth of her work and teachings, which are of the utmost importance at this crucial time in history. The statue, created by the renowned sculptor Alison Saar, is entitled To Sit Awhile, and features the figure of Hansberry surrounded by five bronze chairs, each representing a different aspect of her life and work. The life-size chairs are an invitation to the public to do just that: sit with her and think.

In addition, the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative has created a unique scholarship to make sure that the next generation is able to follow in Hansberry's footsteps, regardless of race, gender, or economic situation. Unlike existing university scholarships, this singular grant will be primarily intended to cover the living expenses of three female and/or non-binary dramatic writers of color entering graduate school, with two additional recipients added each year. Each recipient will receive $25,000 for each year of their education, ensuring that they have protected time to write, work with collaborators, and benefit from the guidance of professional mentors in their respective fields. They will go on to create for the stage, television, and film, and their work will reach millions.

"One can draw a straight line from the issue of real estate and racial discrimination that Hansberry pointed to so clearly in A Raisin in the Sun, to the generational wealth gap that is preventing women of color, specifically Black women, from following in her footsteps today," said The Lillys Executive Director Julia Jordan.

"We know that graduate school is the primary gateway to a career as a dramatic writer," said Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. "In my twenty years of teaching at the graduate level, I have had only four Black female students. If we want theater to tell the full story of humanity, we need to nurture the full breadth of talent."

The statue's tour will include three installations in New York City, followed by a national tour of major cities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In each city, the Initiative will work with local theaters and social justice organizations to showcase the work of contemporary writers of color concurrent with the sculpture's placement.

The full NYC tour stops are as follows:

  • Times Square: June 9th - 12th
  • The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: June 13th - 18th
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park: June 23rd - 29th

Additional supporting NYC events include:

  • The Museum of the City of New York will present a panel, titled The Playwright as Activist, on June 13th as part of their Freedom Week programming, which will feature a conversation between playwrights Lynn Nottage, Lisa Kron, and Erika Dickerson-Despenza.
  • The Drama Book Shop will be dedicating their display space for the month of June to works by and about Hansberry and contemporary writers of color.
  • The New Victory Theater will host Speak Up, Act Out: Celebrating Student Voices (Inspired by The Lorraine Hansberry Initiative Dramatic Writing Showcase) on June 9th.

Following the NYC installations, the tour will have stops in major cities across the country, including Philadelphia, Detroit, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. As the birthplace of Hansberry and the setting of A Raisin in the Sun, Chicago will enjoy an enhanced and permanent installation in 2023.

The statue will be unveiled in a ceremony in Times Square on June 9th, which will feature performances as well as remarks from playwright Lynn Nottage and Lorraine's older sister, Mamie Hansberry. The women and writers of color who have had their work grace Broadway this historic season will be invited to join Mamie Hansberry on stage. This will be followed by a showcase of student works from Speak Up, Act Out: Celebrating Student Voices at the New Victory Theater. The project, a collaboration between New Victory Theater, the Lillys, and 24 Hour Plays, will showcase monologues and short works inspired by Hansberry from NYC middle school students and performed and directed by professional artists, including Quincy Tyler Bernstein, Kate Whoriskey, Russell Jones, Jessica Hecht, April Mathis, Shariffa Ali and Seret Scott.

Additional partners include Times Square Alliance, The Apollo, The Drama Bookstore, New 42/New Victory Theater, the Museum of the City of New York, and BRIC.

The Lorraine Hansberry Initiative Leadership Council includes Liz Armstrong, David Binder, Michelle T. Boone, Lily Fan, Kamilah Forbes, Mandy Greenfield, Agnes Gund, Mamie Hansberry, Nantille Hansberry Charbonnet, Taye Hansberry, David Henry Hwang, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Alia Jones-Harvey, Julia Jordan, Anne Kauffman, Renee Landegger, Kenny Leon, Emily Mann, Jaimie Mayer, Stacey Mindich, Dominique Morisseau, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage, Antoinette Nwandu, Robert O'Hara, Imani Perry, Charles Randolph-Wright, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Jane M. Saks, Jayne Baron Sherman, Seret Scott, Pauletta Washington, George C. Wolfe, and Charlayne Woodard.

Lead support has been provided by the Dramatists Guild, the Ford Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, the Shubert Foundation, Grantmakers for Girls of Color, Liz Armstrong, Agnes Gund, Stacey Mindich, Jayne Baron Sherman, Leslie Simpson, and Daniel M. Ziff.

The entire Lorraine Hansberry Initiative is budgeted at $3,500,000. To date, $2,200,000 has been raised. To make a donation to support this important work, please visit https://lorrainehansberryinitiative.org/donate.

ABOUT THE Lorraine Hansberry INITIATIVE

In 1959, Lorraine Hansberry became the first Black female playwright on Broadway with her play A Raisin in the Sun. It continues to be one of the most produced plays in the world, but Hansberry's contribution to the world was far greater than that single play. Her entire body of work as an artist, journalist, and civil rights leader has proven to be as incisive and relevant today as it was during her short lifetime and deserves to be studied and revered as such.

Over sixty years later, female playwrights of color remain the most proportionally underrepresented demographic on American stages. Despite making up 20% of the population, holding 20% of the undergraduate degrees in English literature and in the performing arts, and being chosen by their peers for over 20% of the spots in national playwright organizations, prior to this unusual year following the murder of George Floyd, they only accounted for under 10% of professional productions.

Through this initiative, we will keep the current national conversation about race, justice, and economic equality going by honoring Lorraine Hansberry. We will add to the growing movement to honor women and people of color with physical monuments. And, we will alleviate the financial inequality that discourages women and non-binary playwrights of color from pursuing graduate degrees in her chosen art form.



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