Lorraine Hansberry was a giver. Bitterness never prevailed long enough in her spirit to destroy the “lift” that was a such a large part of her talent, and which comes naturally when human beings are created on stage. Mostly we see shadows being titillated into life, only to fall because their authors had no lover for them. I hate and deplore her death. We cannot afford such losses. As she once said of Baldwin: “We should be grateful we have him.” I say: we should be grateful we had her. Although what the hell all these words give her now, I don’t know. Relieve my chest. A gift given too late.
—Camille Skirvanek of Brooklyn, in a letter to the New York Times, published January 21, 1965
In the tradition of Alice Walker, who followed the literary and literal maps of Zora Neale Hurston’s home and life, I find myself wanting to stand in the places Lorraine Hansberry stood. I want to make sense of the world in her spaces and on her terms. And I want to tell you about it. It isn’t so pretty. There is as much hell as heaven on this other—after the movement—side. Much has changed, some for better, some worse. Walking in the aftermath teaches this lesson. In the summer of 2017, I wondered somewhat angrily at the absence of a marker for Lorraine in Greenwich Village. But in October 2017, a red plaque was embedded in the rust-colored brick at 112 Waverly Place, in honor of Lorraine. Still, the Village is no longer hers. The multiracial lesbian bar (the only one that was multiracial in New York in the fifties) was a short walk away from her home, and it is gone. It is now a Mexican restaurant, which I don’t expect will last much longer either. It isn’t highbrow. Although the Village has a queer history and present, Lorraine’s presence is faint at best. She’s not really here. Nor is the Bohemia that once was, nor the poor who were there before that. They have been displaced by cool accumulation and edgy wealth. Read More