Kelundra Smith's new play, 'Younger' is a prequel to 'A Raisin in the Sun'
Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun” ranks among the greatest of American dramas, the greatest dramas written for that matter. The injustice of housing discrimination and dreams of a better life is at the heart of this story, but what was the family’s original dream before it was deferred? Playwright and theater critic Kelundra Smith explores these themes in her new play, “Younger.” Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theater Company will host readings of the play Feb. 18 – 20, part of True Colors’ “Reality of Realty” series at the Southwest Arts Center over three upcoming weekends. Kelundra Smith joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about “Younger” and its questions about the elusive American dream.
How Smith’s idea for a prequel to “A Raisin in the Sun” came to life:
“My senior year of high school, I had an opportunity to direct “A Raisin in the Sun” for my drama club, and as I was digging into the play, there was just a small little thought in my seventeen-year-old mind – ‘I wonder what this family’s life was before Chicago,’” said Smith, “Especially because in my own family, there’s a history of the great migration, of people moving from Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia to places like Detroit, Chicago, New York, Indianapolis. And so I saw the parallels there, and I wondered, ‘What was that original dream that was deferred?’”
“Then this little pandemic happened, and I found myself in the house unable to see live in person theater for the first time in over a decade,” Smith said. “As a storyteller at my core, with that time I had in the house to reflect and think and all of that, you know, it became time to write.”
A newly imagined chapter for the Younger family:
“The father who has passed and left behind the life insurance policy in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ is very much alive,” explained Smith. “He and the mother, Lena, are in their thirties, have just moved from what I imagined to be Jackson, Mississippi, to Chicago, and they’re trying to make their way in this new place.”
“The play explores the differences between life in the South and life in the North, the community that they leave behind and the community that they must create to survive in a new place, and what their dreams were as young people, and how they pass those dreams along to their children who we see in ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’”
Shades of Smith’s family history in “Younger:”
“[My great uncle] told us this story about how he worked for Coca-Cola in Selma, and about how his supervisor at Coca-Cola in Selma was like, ‘Oh yeah, you go to Detroit, I’ll send you up with a recommendation letter,” recalled Smith. “In Detroit, they told him, ‘We don’t hire ’n-words’ here.’ And that’s how he ended up in the auto industry.”
“One of the undercurrents in ‘Younger’ and in ‘Raisin’ is the place of unions, and how unions have helped to pull people out of poverty. And that’s certainly true when it comes to the great migration and my own family,” said Smith. “I think there’s something to be said about the blue-collar folks who went into the factories and worked the long hours to build what we now see as the middle class in this country. And from our vantage point, now we see the ways the communities that those people built are being eroded.”
“Younger,” the new play by Kelundra Smith based on the 1959 classic “A Raisin in the Sun,” will be read live at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theater Company at the Southwest Arts Center Feb. 18 – 20. More information and tickets are available at https://truecolorstheatre.org/event/raisin/.