Why the 60th Anniversary of Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun' Resonates for Me in a Personal Way
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." A major American classic by any standard, it is also the first Broadway-produced play by an African-American woman. It's a milestone that remains as relevant on March 11, 2019 as it was in 1959.
Several years ago, a Seattle newspaper asked me to review a staging at Seattle Rep, one of the finest regional theaters in the country. A lifelong theater buff, I was thrilled when the editor promised free tickets and a stipend in exchange for my opinion.
Whenever anyone remounts a beloved classic of film or stage, you hope they won't ruin it. So it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread that I made my way to Seattle Center for the opening. But I needn't have worried. As you might expect from a Tony-winning outfit like Seattle Rep, the production was excellent. Although I hadn't seen the play for quite a while, its impact remained undeniable. The play resonates for anyone with a human heart, but it's especially meaningful to African Americans because it takes a hard look at a family divided by conflicting dreams and the internal and external pressures that challenge and shape the black experience to this very day.
But Hansberry's play also has a special place in my personal memory because my brother, Kurt Hill, performed the role of Walter Lee Younger (the Sidney Poitier character) when my alma mater, Drexel Catholic High School, produced the play during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, about a year before the Voting Rights Act became law.
Painter, filmmaker, artist extraordinaire, Julian Schnabel was born this day in 1951. Nominated for an Oscar for his beautiful film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, he also made a terrific film about the African-American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a taste of which is offered here.
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
My Dad did not have much time to take my brothers and me to see many films, what with his job as a dining-car waiter back in the days of separate-but-equal. So when he did, it was a major event. The 1957 version of the famous gunfight with Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday was the one we saw. What really happened on this day back in 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona, is probably more interesting today as legend than history. But for me, this film is a chance to hang out with my Dad again, though he passed away years ago during my freshman year in college. He did not have much education, but he made sure we all got good ones. And he certainly knew a good movie when he saw one. This one's for you, Dad.
And as long as we're talking fathers and sons, let's say Happy Birthday to novelist, Pat Conroy, born this day in 1946, with this great scene from the movie based on his novel, The Great Santini.
It's true that the video quality of the below clip is not so great, but there's nothing wrong with the audio. A couple of months ago, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and it is widely known that Martin Luther King, Jr., often found inspiration in music. An opera lover, he was also deeply moved by the voice of Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), and was said to have listened to her sing this song the night before he delivered his immortal Dream speech.
October 1, 1856 -
The First Installment of Madame Bovary Published
Remember how you felt a couple of nights ago while waiting for the finale of Breaking Bad? That's how readers felt about Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Today, Bovary is one of those books people say they've read but haven't. That's because it's a classic now and has been relegated to mandatory reading in too many boring classrooms. An argument could be made that Madame Bovary was the Fifty Shades of Grey of its day. It is not an argument that could be sustained on the basis of language or literary invention, but the "scandalous" subject matter certainly put the book on everyone's lips. And imagine having to wait for monthly installments to find out what would happen next! I've always been drawn to that old way of releasing a story. I remember how excited we all were back in the 1970's when Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City was published one piece at a time in the San Francisco Chronicle. You got your newspaper, and unless there was an earthquake on page one, you rushed to the front page of section two to get your fix. What was it Freud said about delayed gratification? No matter. It's hat's off time to the lady of the day, the one, the only, Emma Bovary. Here's the trailer from the 1949 movie version.
VLADIMIR HOROWITZ - BORN 1903
DONNY HATHAWAY - BORN 1945
RICHARD HARRIS - THE FIRST DUMBLEDORE - BORN 1930 -
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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