8 December, 2021

LitStaff Pick: Our Favorite Subversive Fiction

What happens to a dream deferred? /Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?”
– from the poem Harlem, by Langston Hughes (from The Poetry Foundation)

A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry

As is true for far too many of the readings assigned to me in high school, the details of plot and character in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun have gotten rather fuzzy with age, but the spirit of her work has always stayed with me. Hansberry’s play, based on her family’s own experience of housing discrimination on the south side of Chicago, was perhaps one of the first works of fiction I read that explored the devastating impact of social injustice. While the play was well received on Broadway, it made its debut before the heyday of the civil rights movement, at a time in which segregation was lawful across the south and, as her family experienced, quietly but surely practiced in northern neighborhoods as well. I am struck now not only by the courage I imagine it took to write about such a hot-button subject, but also the courage to write from a very personal place, rather than choosing to write a political essay – thus exposing all the emotional vulnerability of the soul. Writing as Hansberry did was certainly subversive in its challenge to the status quo, and also represents the very best kind of American patriotism – that which in its bravery upholds and furthers the ideal of equality for all.

-Jennifer Messner

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