To Sit A While: The Unveiling of the Lorraine Hansberry Sculpture

Have you ever wanted to sit and think in the company of a legendary playwright? Thanks to the Lilly Awards Foundation’s new sculpture of Lorraine Hansberry, you can do just that.

  • Photo of Lynn Nottage speaking at the unveiling of the new sculpture celebrating Lorraine Hansberry
    Lynn Nottage speaking on behalf of The Lillys and the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative. Photo Taylor Hill / Getty Images @taylorehill
  • Julia Jordan speaking on behalf of The Lillys and the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative
    Julia Jordan speaking on behalf of The Lillys and the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative. Photo Taylor Hill / Getty Images @taylorehill
  • Artist Alison Saar with her sculpture "To Sit Awhile" celebrating the life and work of Lorraine Hansberry
    Artist Alison Saar with her sculpture “To Sit Awhile” celebrating the life and work of Lorraine Hansberry. Photo Taylor Hill / Getty Images @taylorehill
  • Taye Hansberry speaking on behalf of the family and her "Aunt Lorraine"
    Taye Hansberry speaking on behalf of the family and her “Aunt Lorraine.” Photo Taylor Hill / Getty Images @taylorehill
  • LaChanze singing "Human Heart" from Once On This Island
    LaChanze singing "Human Heart" from Once On This Island. Photo Taylor Hill / Getty Images @taylorehill
  • Speakers and honored guests at the unveiling of "To Sit Awhile" celebrating the life and work of Lorraine Hansberry
    Speakers and honored guests at the unveiling of “To Sit Awhile” celebrating the life and work of Lorraine Hansberry. Photo Taylor Hill / Getty Images @taylorehill

On Thursday June 9, 2022 in Time Square, The Lilly Awards Foundation celebrated the unveiling of Alison Saar’s To Sit A While, a sculpture installation depicting playwright and DG Council member Lorraine Hansberry and honoring her legacy.

In Saar’s piece, the figure of Hansberry is surrounded by five bronze chairs, each representing a different aspect of her life and work. The life-size chairs are an invitation to the public to do just that: sit with her and think. 

“Lorraine Hansberry faced down insurmountable obstacles to ensure that stories about Black people were told onstage,” Lynn Nottage said in a powerful opening speech at the unveiling event. “Today, I’m so proud to honor her legacy and amplify her voice.”

Next, artist Saar spoke about her installation. She encouraged people to be inspired by Hansberry’s advocacy and continue to honor and amplify that work by donating to the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative.

The Tony Award-winning performer LaChanze was also on hand to help celebrate the unveiling of the sculpture installation with a song. She gave a heartfelt, riveting performance of “Human Heart” from Once on the Island by DG members Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Before she sang, LaChanze spoke about the significance of Black women playwrights including—and especially—Lorraine Hansberry.

“Black female playwrights don’t have the luxury of just writing plays. Their work has to say something. It also has to uplift and it has to be advocacy, which is why the work that Lorraine Hansberry, and others like her, have done is important. I’m standing here because of the words that they have written.”

Not only was Hansberry an influential playwright who inspired generations of theatrical artists, she was also a civil rights activist. Lorraine Hansberry’s niece Taye Hansberry spoke about her aunt’s activism, recalling the time in May of 1963 when Robert F. Kennedy met with a small group of Black artists and activists, including Lorraine Hansberry. When Kennedy seemed unable to comprehend the pain of Jerome Smith, who had been beaten and jailed by the police, Hansberry reportedly said, “if you are insensitive to this, then there is no alternative except our going into the streets... and chaos” and she subsequently walked out of the meeting.

 Taye Hansberry ended her speech by sharing one of her favorite quotes on social justice from her Aunt Lorraine: “It really doesn’t matter whether you are talking about the oppressed or the oppressor. An oppressive society will dehumanize and degenerate everyone involved.

To Sit A While is part of The Lillys’ Lorraine Hansberry Initiative, which also includes a scholarship to make sure the next generation is able to follow in Hansberry’s footsteps, regardless of race, gender, or economic situation.

The sculpture remained in Times Square through June 12; it subsequently went to two other significant New York City locations: The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (June 13–18) and Brooklyn Bridge Park (June 23-29). Following New York City, the statue will subsequently tour major U.S. cities—including Philadelphia, Detroit, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago (Hansberry’s birthplace will enjoy an enhanced and permanent installation in 2023)—and historically Black colleges and universities.

This tour is intended to raise awareness of the full breadth of Hansberry’s work and teachings. To that end, in each city that the sculpture visits, the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative will work with local theatres and social justice organizations to showcase the work of contemporary writers of color concurrent with the sculpture’s placement.

Learn more about the Lorraine Hansberry Initiative.

Person
Sarah Rebell

is a theatrical journalist and musical theatre writer. Fellow: National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Bylines: The Interval, American Theatre, Women and Hollywood, Howlround. Sarah currently works as the Communications Content Manager at the Dramatists Guild.