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Pearl Cleage

Playwright & Novelist

Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta based writer whose work has won commercial acceptance and critical praise in several genres. An award winning playwright whose Flyin’ West was the most produced new play in the country in 1994, Pearl is also a best selling author whose first novel, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day,…

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Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta based writer whose work has won commercial acceptance and critical praise in several genres. An award winning playwright whose Flyin’ West was the most produced new play in the country in 1994, Pearl is also a best selling author whose first novel, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day, was an Oprah Book Club pick and spent nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Her subsequent novels have been consistant best sellers and perennial book club favorites. I Wish I Had A Red Dress, her second novel, won multiple book club awards in 2001. Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, was a “Good Morning America!” book club pick in 2003, and Babylon Sisters made the ESSENCE Magazine best seller list in 2005.

Her most recent novel, Baby Brother’s Blues, was the first pick of the new ESSENCE Book Club and an NAACP Image Award winner for fiction in 2007. In the March 2007 issue of ESSENCE, Pearl had two books on the best seller list, Baby Brother’s Blues and We Speak Your Names, a poetic celebration commissioned by Oprah Winfrey and co-authored with her husband, writer Zaron W. Burnett, Jr. The poem was also an NAACP Image Award nominee in 2007.

Pearl was a popular columnist with The Atlanta Tribune for ten years and has contributed as a free lance writer to ESSENCE, Ms., Rap Pages, VIBE and Ebony. Her recent play, A Song for Coretta, played to sold out audiences during its Atlanta premiere in February of 2007 and will be produced at Atlanta’s Seven Stages Theatre in February of 2008 in preparation for a national tour.

Pearl’s work occupies a unique niche in contemporary African American fiction. Her characters are as complex and multi-faceted as her readers lives and their balancing of work, love and family (not necessarily in that order!) ring true to those who eagerly await each novel. She balances issues as challenging as AIDS, domestic violence and urban blight, but the distinguishing features of her books are her optimism, her commitment to positive change and transformation, and her unwavering faith in the possibility and power of romantic love. The creation of good, believable, desirable men — as well as the women who love them! — is a hallmark of Pearl’s fiction and her readers are quick to mention their fondness for Eddie Jefferson, the dread locked hero of What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day, Nate Anderson, the weight lifting high school principal in I Wish I Had a Red Dress, Burghardt Johnson, the globetrotting journalist in Babylon Sisters, or their all time favorite, the mysterious Blue Hamilton, a former R&B singer turned neighborhood godfather,who is at the center of both Baby Brother’s Blues and Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, where his character is first introduced. This character, with his amazing blue eyes and remembrance of past lives, not only keeps the peace, but falls deeply in love and isn’t afraid to show it. His relationship with Regina Burns is at the heart of both books and has made him one of Pearl’s most popular characters.

Pearl is married to Zaron W. Burnett, Jr., with whom she frequently collaborates. She has one daughter, Deignan, and two grandchildren, Chloe and Michael.

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Everything But the Money: Lessons for Free Women
Cleage examines her own life and determines that she’s done “everything right but the money.” Equal parts affirmation of her own life choices and cautionary tale for independent women, it is a frank and funny examination of the joys and challenges facing American female baby boomers.

We Speak Your Names: A Celebration
An unexpected commissioning from Oprah Winfrey found Cleage writing the poem that defined Winfrey’s 2005 Legends Weekend honoring African American women. She shares the process that produced the piece and her memories of that extraordinary weekend, taking listeners behind the scenes of the poem that became the centerpiece of the event.

In Search of August Wilson: American Theatre & the Challenge of Diversity
As a widely produced playwright, Cleage examines the unspoken cultural assumptions that continue to shape the choices made by producers and artistic directors as they go in search of “cultural diversity,” and explains why those choices stifle the growth of the American theatre.

Voting for the Girl: Citizenship as a Women’s Issue
Examining the dangers of voting based solely on race or gender identification, Cleage suggests that for the American democracy to continue to thrive, women must not be confined to a set of issues determined by their biology or excluded from the wider debate that often informs those issues.

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: The Power of Memoir
A firm believer that “the personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself,” Cleage’s 2014 memoir, Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies Lessons and Love Affairs, revisits her journals from the 1970’s and 1980’s as a way of passing on the lessons she learned on her journey from naïve wife and young mother to full time professional writer and freewoman. Frank and funny, it’s an invitation to cross generational dialogue.

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Pearl Cleage - Black Community Book Club

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