Book Review | Looking For Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry

A photo of the book cover, art by Beacon Press,

“Her going did not so much make me lonely as make me realize how lonely we were. We had that respect for each other which perhaps is only felt by people on the same side of the barricades, listening to the accumulating thunder of the hooves of horses and the treads of tanks.” — James Baldwin, “Sweet Lorraine,” Introduction, To Be Young, Gifted and Black.

Now, when the veil is thin. Now, when we have lost another nonconformist Black woman writer who would not be placed in our neat boxes.

Page 95 of Looking for Lorraine. Dr. Perry notes that the FBI’s attempts to surveil Lorraine coincided with a morose period of her life & this column of lists appears in her datebook from that period, in 1960.

“Neither saw the struggle for freedom as limited to fights for laws and full citizenship. Freedom dreams led to complex questions about humanity and existence, about who we are and might become…Though they were both most passionately focused on the question of race, it was a question that was never posed in isolation from other structures of difference and domination such as gender, class, and sexuality. And neither of them subjected race to monolithic interpretations. Jimmy and Lorraine understood that people, in all their messiness, had complex architectures inside and among them.”

Perry’s biography of Lorraine is not standard in any sense, except that it does fit well in the canon of biographies of tremendously talented or brilliant Black women visionaries that I cherish, among them Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White; Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd; Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings; Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol by Nell Painter; as well as Catherine Clinton’s excellent biography of Harriet Tubman.

Little girl you must continue to trust in God, believe and trust him and wait until he reaches you…I wrote you two weeks passed…I am writing against you can write me if you want to, let me know how you feel by now…

I am your friend, Essie Barnes

Your photo in the Jet is cute.

“ ‘Little girl’ is a moniker not unlike the designation ‘sweet’ in Black Southern vernacular. It lets you know that you are cherished. Lorraine was by so many.”

Even re-reading that now and transcribing it now makes me cry, I think, because of how few Black women are cherished. How infrequently we see Black women cherished on the page or in life. Not at the moment of our dying, certainly not while yet we are living.

Writer, Journalist & Educator. Author of I Can Write The World & a few other books.