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Meet the woman whose job is to preserve and shape the legacy of Lorraine Hansberry

Joi Gresham is the literary trustee for the playwright’s estate.

Joi Gresham (Credit: Courtesy of DKC/O&M)

Joi Gresham was 10 years old when she moved into Lorraine Hansberry’s home in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Hansberry wasn’t there; she had already passed away. At the time, the house belonged to her widower, Robert Nemiroff — and that’s how a young Joi wound up living there. Gresham’s mother, Jewel, married Nemiroff, after Hansberry’s passing.

Beginning in 1966, per Hansberry’s will, Nemiroff dedicated himself to Hansberry’s estate, operating as the official literary executor. “He was full-on committed to singularly architecting a legacy,” said Joi Gresham. With Gresham’s arrival, he also became a father and teacher.

Hansberry had really only been in the public consciousness for a few years, entering with “A Raisin in the Sun” in 1959 and passing away in 1965. But in that short time, she was prolific.

Nemiroff registered her plays, writings, correspondence, journals, etc. for copyright and made decisions around what would happen with her published and unpublished work. “That [ability] came out of a special relationship that they shared as creative collaborators,” Gresham said of her father and his late wife. “He was Lorraine’s sounding board. He had skills as an editor and archivist.”

Fourteen filing cabinets sat full in that house in the Hudson Valley, and Gresham watched as Nemiroff shaped their contents into a usable well of Hansberry’s art and knowledge in addition to a living portrait of the woman.

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