How utterly mad it all is

Lorraine Hansberry, 1959
Photo: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

Although her life was cut tragically short, Lorraine Hansberry’s influence on American theatre was profound. Raised amid the racial turbulence of 1930s Chicago, she channelled her experiences into A Raisin in the Sun, a groundbreaking play that earned her three distinctions: the youngest American, the fifth woman, and the first Black playwright to clinch the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. She later adapted her masterpiece for the big screen, and in June of 1961, while wrestling with a period of creative stagnation just weeks after the film’s release, she wrote the following diary entry. Sadly, she died from pancreatic cancer only four years later, aged just thirty-four.

The Diary Entry

July 3, 1961

It is very hot and I am not feeling too well. Ernest Hemingway shot himself to death yesterday. How utterly mad it all is, this life business. It is so awful to live without envy of anything.

The days pass and pass and I do nothing. Such times have been before. I just sit all day or traverse the streets in pointless rounds—and then sit at this desk and smoke cigarettes. Would like to be working but am in awful trouble with it…

Further Reading

A number of Lorraine Hansberry’s diary entries can be found in To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, a wonderful, insightful book first published in 1969 in which many fragments of her writing—taken from her diaries, letters, interviews, and plays—have been collated chronologically. That book was inspired by a play of the same name that ran on Broadway in 1968/9.

Diary entry excerpted from To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words by Lorraine Hansberry, adapted by Robert Nemiroff. Copyright © 1969 by Robert Nemiroff and Robert Nemiroff as Executor of the Estate of Lorraine Hansberry. Reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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