"As a girl, she started reading and caring about Africa, looking at the newsreels and photographs of Africa, trying to figure out where she came from," says Robert Nemiroff, husband of the late playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Her plays grew from that compulsion -- to trace her black heritage and to engrave into humanity's conscience both the painful and miraculous complexities of black lives.

Today, in conjunction with Harold Scott's production of "Les Blancs," Arena Stage is presenting a symposium on Hansberry, one of the first recognized black women playwrights in the United States. A showing of the documentary "Lorraine Hansberry: The Black Experience in the Creation of Drama" will be followed by a panel discussion by Nemiroff, South African exile Dennis Brutus and two Hansberry scholars, Margaret Wilkerson and Steven Carter.

"She really mirrors the heart of the black struggle in this country," Nemiroff says. When "A Raisin in the Sun" premiered in 1959, whites were astonished to see the world in black terms. The symposium, "The Legacy of Lorraine Hansberry: Transcultural Humanist," begins at 2 p.m. this afternoon. It is free, but reservations are required. "Les Blancs" will run through March 13th. For reservations and ticket information, call 488-3300. Claudia Sandlin