May 19, 2006
Poem: "Waking Elsewhere," by Cecilia Woloch, from Late. © Boa Editions, Ltd. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
I woke up dreaming my mother's garden
fields in autumn, green turning gold,
grasses scythed down in the late, dark sun;
and here will be corn, she was saying, tomatoes,
flowers I never knew she loved.
I woke to a child climbing into my bed
four-year-old girl of my sister's son
hair like silk and the color of wheat
falling into her eyes, begging me to get up.
And in my mother's kitchen the strong light smelled of coffee
and autumn, in fact. In fact, my mother,
who hasn't gardened in twenty years, was taking a bath.
I heard her splashing through the walls. It was October;
the child came forward, one fresh egg cupped in her palm.
I woke up dreaming the harrowed fields,
sharp with stubble, my mother's lands.
She was already preparing for spring; she was already
stepping naked from the bath, away from grief
a widow with work to do, weeds in the yard,
and the child calling softly to me, come on, come on, come on.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of director and screenwriter Nora Ephron, born in New York City (1941). She's written and directed nineteen movies, including Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally (1989), and Sleepless in Seattle (1993).
When she was eight years old, her father, who was a real-estate broker, had a friend of his from work buy a house for him in a white neighborhood. A few weeks after the family moved in, they were attacked by an angry mob. Lorraine just missed being hit by a brick thrown through her bedroom window. Her father took the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, and his victory there in 1959 paved the way for racial desegregation in cities across the country.
It was that experience that gave Hansberry the idea for her play A Raisin in the Sun (1959), about the Younger family, who live in a cramped house on the South Side of Chicago. When they receive a 10,000-dollar life insurance check, they have to decide whether or not to move into a larger house in an all-white suburb. The title of the play was taken from a Langston Hughes poem.
A Raisin in the Sun was Hansberry's first play; she wrote it when she was twenty-eight years old, and she had no idea how to go about getting it produced. One night, she read the first part of the play to a group of friends that included the music publisher Philip Rose. Rose called Hansberry the next morning and volunteered to produce the play, even though he had never produced a play in his life. He happened to be friends with Sidney Poitier, so he called him up, and Poitier arranged for the black director Lloyd Richards to take on the project.
It opened in March of 1959 with a cast that included Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, and Louis Gossett. A preview audience gave it a lukewarm response and Hansberry wasn't expecting it to do very well, but the opening-night audience loved it, and it went on to play for more than five hundred performances over two years. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best American play of 1959.
A Raisin in the Sun was the first Broadway play to be written by a black woman. For most members of the audience, it was the first time they had seen the life of a regular black family portrayed on stage or in film. For blacks, it opened the door for actors and directors to produce plays on Broadway, including August Wilson and Ntozake Shange. In 1961 it was made into a movie.
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