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Reimagining 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Anthology of four plays illuminates tensions, anxieties still surrounding integration

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April 11, 2012 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Is it a coincidence that a spate of new plays about race and neighborhoods appeared in American theatres after a black family for the first time moved into the nation’s White House? Or that one of those dramas -- “Clybourne Park” -- is about to officially open on Broadway? Northwestern University Professor Harvey Young doesn’t think so. 

A full half-century after Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” debuted on Broadway comes “Reimagining A Raisin in the Sun,” an anthology of four plays written after 2009. All its plays, according to their authors, owe a debt to Hansberry’s classic drama about integration, neighborhood and race relation. 

Co-edited by Young and Rebecca Rugg and published by Northwestern University Press, “Reimagining A Raisin in the Sun” includes interviews with contemporary playwrights Bruce Norris, Gloria Bond Clunie, Robert O’Hara and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins in which they describes how Hansberry influenced their writing.

Featured in the anthology is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Clybourne Park” by Norris, a Northwestern alumnus. Produced last year in Chicago at Steppenwolf Theatre, the play about a gentrifying Chicago neighborhood officially opens on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 19. 

The book’s three other plays are O’Hara’s “Etiquette of Vigilance,” Northwestern alumnus Clunie’s “Living Green” and Jacobs-Jenkins’s “Neighbors.” Its afterword includes an interview with George C. Wolfe, whose play “The Colored Museum” laid the groundwork for the titles in the collection. 

“All the plays stage the anxieties and tensions around race that exist within present-day neighborhoods,” says Young, associate professor of theatre and performance studies in the School of Communication and of African American studies in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “And the concerns and themes raised in all four of these contemporary plays reverberate in current events.” 

Though approached from different perspectives, certain themes are found in all four plays, Young says. “One need only think about Trayvon Martin and how the presence of a black teenager within that gated Florida community was enough to arouse suspicion and doubt that the black boy could have been a neighbor.”

For more about the four-play anthology, “Reimagining A Raisin in the Sun,” visit http://www.reimaginingraisin.com/. For more about the Broadway premiere of “Clybourne Park,” visit http://clybournepark.com/. For more on Northwestern University Press, visit http://www.nupress.northwestern.edu/.