Clybourne Park


Bruce Norris

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Clybourne Park Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Bruce Norris

Norris was interested in theatre from a young age, and attended Northwestern University where he received a theatre degree from the School of Communication in 1982. After graduating from college he worked as an actor, even appearing on Broadway in Biloxi Blues in 1985, but soon became disillusioned with the constant rejection that accompanies the profession. His first play, The Actor Retires (1991) was a reflection on this experience of rejection, and marked a major turning point in his career. Over the next twenty-five years Norris wrote eleven plays, the most famous of which is Clybourne Park (2010), which won the Olivier Prize for Best New Play, a Tony, and a Pulitzer.
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Historical Context of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun was based on a real court case between Lorraine Hansberry’s family and the residents of a white Chicago neighborhood.  In the 1940 case, Hansberry v. Lee, white residents sued Lorraine Hansberry’s father on the grounds that they had a covenant in place banning the selling of property to black families. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, who ruled that since most of the homeowners in the neighborhood had not signed the covenant, it could not be used to evict the Hansberry family. The Hansberry’s specific court case was unique, but their movement as a black family into a white neighborhood was not—during the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, black families increasingly moved into urban areas, while white families (who were generally wealthier and therefore had greater mobility) increasingly relocated to the suburbs to escape the influx of minorities. This well-documented and widespread phenomenon is commonly referred to as “white flight.” Conversely, the play’s second act deals with the influx of white people back into urban areas—a phenomenon known as gentrification that began in the late the twentieth century and continues today, raising housing prices and consequently “pricing out” families who have lived in those neighborhoods for generations (again, often people of color).

Other Books Related to Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park is a “spin-off” of Lorraine Hansberry’s famous 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, meaning that it centers around some of the play’s peripheral events and characters. Specifically, the main characters of A Raisin in the Sun—the Younger family—will eventually move into the house in which Clybourne Park is set. However, Karl Linder is the only character to appear in both plays. In A Raisin in the Sun, Karl visits the Youngers to dissuade them from moving into the house because he doesn’t want a black family moving into his neighborhood, a scene which takes place directly prior to the first act of Clybourne Park. Apart from their related plotlines, both plays deal with the intersecting issues of race and class.
Key Facts about Clybourne Park
  • Full Title: Clybourne Park
  • When Written: 2000s
  • Where Written: United States
  • When Published: Premiered 2010, published 2011
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Drama
  • Setting: A house in the fictional Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago in 1959 and 2009
  • Climax: Steve suggests that Lena’s opposition to his and Lindsey’s renovations is racist
  • Antagonist: Karl and Steve, systematic racism, and gentrification

Extra Credit for Clybourne Park

The Raisin Cycle. Clybourne Park is the second of three plays in the so-called “Raisin Cycle,” the first being the eponymous A Raisin in the Sun, and the third being Beneatha’s Place by Kwame Kwei-Armah, which follows two minor characters from Raisin in the play’s aftermath.

Working Actor. Although primarily a working playwright, Norris has appeared in films and television since 1983. Recently he’s had bit parts in both Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as well as in films, including The Sixth Sense.