American playwright Lorraine Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930 in Chicago. After attending the University of Wisconsin for two years and then studying painting in Chicago and Mexico, Hansberry moved to New York in 1950. There she held a number of odd jobs to make ends meet while trying to establish her writing career. Hansberry wrote her first play A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. The first drama by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of a working-class black family in Chicago. The production won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, and in 1961, the film version, starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, received a special award at the Cannes Film Festival. Hansberry's next play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, a drama set in Greenwich Village, had a short run on Broadway in 1964. Hansberry's promising career was tragically cut short by her premature death on January 12, 1965. She was 34 years old. The plays To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Les Blancs were adapted from Hansberry's early writings by her ex-husband Robert Nemiroff. Both plays were produced off-Broadway, in 1969 and 1970 respectively.
James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in New York. Baldwin's father was a pastor who subjected his children to poverty, abuse, and religious fanaticism. As a result, many of Baldwin's recurring themes, such as alienation and rejection, are attributable to his upbringing. Living the life of a starving artist, Baldwin went through numerous jobs, including dishwasher, office boy, factory worker, and waiter. In 1948, he moved to France, where much work originated. Baldwin published Go Tell It on the Mountain in 1953. A largely autobiographical work, it tells of the religious awakening of a fourteen-year-old. In addition to his childhood experiences, his experiences as a black man and a homosexual provided inspiration for such works as Giovanni's Room, Nobody Knows My Name, and Another Country. Baldwin holds a distinguished place in American history as one of the foremost writers of both black and gay literature. He was an active participant in the Civil Rights movement. Baldwin succumbed to cancer on December 1, 1987.