I like to imagine Lorraine Hansberry and Robert Nemiroff in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park while they were dating. She was the associate editor of Paul Robeson’s newspaper, Freedom, in Harlem; he was finishing up a graduate degree in English literature at New York University. He would lie back on the grass and listen to Lorraine reading poetry aloud.

But after examining the 109 boxes of her papers that Nemiroff and his third wife, Jewell Gresham-Nemiroff—a Black activist and playwright —curated for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in Harlem, I was surprised to discover how important he was in Hansberry’s life.

They were a pair of social reformers, Bob and Lorraine—anti-nuke, anti-racism, anti-war Marxists. They met in 1952 at a demonstration in Washington Square. Nemiroff and his wife at the time, Elma Lopez, a Puerto Rican–American dancer, were picketing for the N.A.A.C.P. Hansberry interviewed them for Freedom. Afterward, Nemiroff invited her to join the couple and a few others at Ratner’s, a kosher deli on Second Avenue known for its cheese blintzes. Six months later, the day after Nemiroff and Lopez’s divorce came through, Nemiroff called Hansberry for a date.

Hansberry and her husband-cum-manager, Robert Nemiroff, a week before the Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun, at the Barrymore Theatre, in New York, 1959.

And they fell in love. Well, not a romantic kind of love. More of an understanding that left room for Hansberry’s bisexual affairs later. As she would tell him about why she was going outside their marriage: “I suppose I really need you. But you don’t really need me. Then too, to be honest, I want one or two things which you simply cannot give.” What kept them together after they married in 1953 was work—Hansberry’s work—A Raisin in the Sun, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, Les Blancs.

Nemiroff became her manager. And her plays became their children. They talked about them all the time. Hansberry would sit in the bathroom having a cigarette while Nemiroff showered so they could continue their conversations.

He chided her about not using her time productively, knowing it was her weak point. Once, she threw an early draft of A Raisin in the Sun on the floor and went to get a broom to sweep it into the fireplace. He knelt down and picked up the pages, putting them away until she calmed down. A few days later, while she was moping around the apartment, he put the script on her desk again. She went back to work.

Hansberry and the crew of A Raisin in the Sun—from left, co-producer David J. Cogan, director Lloyd Richards, co-producer Philip Rose, and star Sidney Poitier.

Nemiroff was used to handling artistic temperaments. He was a talent scout, a deal-maker, and an impresario for the pop-music scene. I found a photo of him in a recording studio in the Brill Building, on Broadway. In it, he’s listening to the playback of a song by two nervous teenagers standing beside him: Carole King and Paul Simon. He was good at discovering talent, bringing it along, and making money. (Nemiroff discovered Oscar Brown, whose album Sin and Soul became a hit. With Burt D’Lugoff, Nemiroff also co-wrote the 1956 song “Cindy, Oh Cindy,” which sold in the millions, and “Fifteen,” the theme song for the 1959 film The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, starring Harry Belafonte.)

His program for Hansberry began early. They had only been married a few weeks when he packed her off to a leftist summer camp in upstate New York to fine-tune her social consciousness. Later, when she got bogged down in the middle of writing A Raisin in the Sun, he sent her to Provincetown with instructions to finish the play.

They fell in love. Well, not a romantic kind of love. More of an understanding that left room for Hansberry’s bisexual affairs.

After A Raisin in the Sun’s success, Hansberry moved out of their apartment and purchased a place of her own—if only around the corner from Nemiroff. However, left to her own devices, she wasted too much time, and he was eager to get her next play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, to Broadway. So he steered her into a split-level house in suburban Croton-on-Hudson. It was supposed to be her writing retreat. She knew practically no one in Croton. He had a key to the house and had his own bedroom. (Hansberry divorced Nemiroff in 1964.)

Nemiroff with Carole King, Gerry Goffin (King’s writing partner and eventual husband), and Paul Simon, in a recording studio in New York, circa 1959.

Even when Hansberry became seriously ill with pancreatic cancer, he brought script revisions for the play during hospital visiting hours. She was dying, but Nemiroff had an arrangement with her doctor not to tell her. “This enabled her to go on, with considerable reality, but it’s still not total hopelessness,” he said. “She wrote right up to the end.” Hansberry died on January 12, 1965, at just 34. That night, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window closed on Broadway after 101 performances.

As Hansberry’s literary executor, Nemiroff produced several shows from her materials, including the Tony-winning Broadway musical Raisin. He adapted her unfinished play, Les Blancs, slashing through entire pages with a pencil and re-writing dialogue. And from her notes, diaries, datebooks, and correspondence, he assembled an “informal autobiography,” To Be Young, Gifted and Black, “adapted by Robert Nemiroff” and with an introduction written by James Baldwin, which became a classic in American high schools.

Hansberry with Richards, photographed by Gordon Parks at Sardi’s restaurant, in New York’s Theater District, during a party in honor of the premiere of A Raisin in the Sun.

The depth of Nemiroff’s devotion was beginning to trouble me when I came across an exchange of letters between him and the Black poet June Jordan. She challenged Nemiroff to acknowledge the extent to which he was the co-author of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window and of the posthumous Les Blancs.

“I am not—as you seem to be saying,” he replied to Jordan, “perhaps without meaning to—Lorraine.

He had been, instead, in a manner of speaking, Mr. Lorraine Hansberry. That was what mattered to him; that was his role—to be as important to her as he could make himself. Right up until the end of her life, and for the rest of his as well.

Charles J. Shields is the author of several books, including Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee and And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life. His latest book, Lorraine Hansberry: The Life Behind “A Raisin in the Sun,is out now from Henry Holt