On the Horizon: Thoughts on “A Raisin in the Sun”
ON THE day that the New York Drama Critics’ Award was announced, a student stopped me as I walked across the campus-where I pass as an expert on the theater-and asked a sensible question. Had A Raisin in the Sun won because it was the best play of the year, or because its author, Lorraine Hansberry, is a Negro? Even if the play is a good one (and, with reservations, I think it is), even if it were indisputably the best of the year, the climate of award-giving would make impossible its consideration on merit alone. Whenever an award goes to a playwright who is not a veteran of Broadway or to a play which is in some way unusual, the special case is almost certainly as important a factor in the voting as the play itself. The only contender this year that might have been chosen on its own merits (of which I think it has very few) was Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth. Had J.B. got the award-and the smart money assumed it would and assumed, correctly, that it would also get the Pulitzer-special consideration would have derived from the image of Archibald MacLeish as the poet invading Broadway, and from the critical piety that longs for verse on the commercial stage. Had A Touch of the Poet got the award, respect for O’Neill as America’s greatest playwright and the suspicion (unfounded) that this is very likely the last full-length play to be unearthed from the O’Neill papers and put on stage would have received ballots along with the play itself. It is, then, only sensible to assume that Lorraine Hansberry’s being a Negro, and the first Negro woman to have a play on Broadway, had its influence on the voting critics.
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