James Baldwin on Lorraine Hansberry

“I saw Lorraine in her hospital bed, as she was dying. She tried to speak, she couldn’t. She did not seem frightened or sad, only exasperated that her body no longer obeyed her; she smiled and waved. But I prefer to remember her as she was the last time I saw her on her feet. We were at, of all place, the PEN Club, she was seated, talking, dressed all in black, wearing a very handsome wide, black hat, thin, and radiant. I knew she had been ill, but I didn’t know, then, how seriously. I said, ‘Lorraine, baby, you look beautiful, how in the world do you do it?’ She was leaving, I have the impression she was on a staircase, and she turned and smiled that smile and said, ‘It helps to develop a serious illness, Jimmy!’ and waved and disappeared.”

—James Baldwin, “Sweet Lorraine”


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