Episode 162: Pearl Cleage

AWM Author Talks
AWM Author Talks
Episode 162: Pearl Cleage

This week, playwright, poet, and author Pearl Cleage discusses her life and career with Remy Bumppo Theatre Artistic Director Marti Lyons. Remy Bumppo staged Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky in the fall of 2023. This conversation originally took place September 26, 2023 and was recorded live via Zoom.


More about the speakers:

Pearl Cleage (she/her/hers) is an Atlanta-based writer whose plays include POINTING AT THE MOON, WHAT I LEARNED IN PARIS, FLYIN’ WEST, BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY, and BOURBON AT THE BORDER, commissioned and directed by Kenny Leon at the Alliance Theatre. She is also the author of A SONG FOR CORETTA, written in 2007 during Cleage’s time as Cosby Professor in Women’s Studies at Spelman College. Her play, THE NACIREMA SOCIETY REQUESTS THE HONOR OF YOUR PRESENCE AT A CELEBRATION OF THEIR FIRST ONE HUNDRED YEARS, was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and premiered in 2010, in a joint production by the ASF and Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, directed by Susan Booth. Her plays have also been performed at Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Huntington Theatre, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Long Wharf Theatre, Just US Theatre, True Colors Theatre, Bushfire Theatre, the Intiman Theatre, St. Louis Black Repertory Company, and Seven Stages. She is also an accomplished performance artist, often working in collaboration with her husband, writer Zaron W. Burnett, Jr. They have performed at the National Black Arts Festival, the National Black Theatre Festival, and colleges and universities across the country. Cleage and Burnett also collaborated with performance artists Idris Ackamoor and Rhodessa Jones on the script for THE LOVE PROJECT, which premiered at the National Black Theatre Festival in 2008, and is currently touring the country. Cleage is also an accomplished novelist. Her novels include “What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day,” a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah Book Club selection, “I Wish I Had a Red Dress,” “Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do,” “Babylon Sisters,” “Baby Brother’s Blues,” “Seen It All and Done the Rest,” and “Till You Hear from Me.” She is also the author of “Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth,” a groundbreaking work of race and gender, and “We Speak Your Names,” a praise poem commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for her 2005 celebration of legendary African American women and written in collaboration with Zaron Burnett. Cleage has also written for magazines, including “Essence,” “Vibe,” “Rap Pages,” and “Ms.” In addition to her work as the founding editor of “Catalyst” magazine, a literary journal, she was a regular columnist for the Atlanta Tribune for ten years, winning many awards for her thought-provoking columns. She has also written for TheDefendersOnLine.com. Cleage has been awarded grants in support of her work from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulton County Arts Council, the Georgia Council on the Arts, the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the Coca-Cola Foundation. Her work has earned her many awards and honors, including an NAACP Image Award for fiction in 2008. Pearl Cleage is represented by Ron Gwiazda at Abrams Artists Agency in New York City. Her website is www.PearlCleage.net. She also maintains a Facebook fan page. www.pearlcleage.net.

Marti Lyons (she/her/hers) most recently directed the world-premiere of Galileo’s Daughter by Jessica Dickey at Remy Bumppo, Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberly at Northlight Theatre, Wife of a Salesman by Eleanor Burgess at Milwaukee Rep, Sense and Sensibility adapted by Jessica Swale at American Players Theatre and the world-premiere of John Proctor is the Villain by Kimberly Belflower at Studio Theatre in D.C. Marti’s other productions include The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess at Writers Theatre; Cymbeline at American Players Theatre; The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe and both the stage and audio productions of Kings by Sarah Burgess at Studio Theatre; the world-premiere of How to Defend Yourself by liliana padilla, a Victory Gardens and Actors Theatre of Louisville co-production; Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee at Victory Gardens and City Theatre; Witch by Jen Silverman at Geffen Playhouse and Writers Theatre (LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Direction); Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías at Victory Gardens; Botticelli in the Fire by Jordan Tannahill at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; I, Banquo at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Title and Deed by Will Eno at Lookingglass Theatre Company; Laura Marks’ Bethany and Mine at The Gift Theatre. Marti is also an ensemble member at The Gift Theatre, and a member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. martilyons.com

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