Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West is the story of a small group of African-American women whose lives changed when the West was opened up for people willing to settle in a harsh and untested region. The backgrounds, actions, and feelings of the play’s four women and two men reflect themes of determination, racism, miscegenation (intermarriage between races), feminism, pride, and freedom. These themes are evident in much of Cleage’s work, which includes plays, novels, and essays.
Flyin’ West was published in 1995 by Dramatists Play Service but was performed in Atlanta prior to publication. The play was originally commissioned in 1992 by the Alliance Theatre Company and was produced with the support of AT&T and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Resident Theatre Initiative. Critical response was favorable, and audiences were pleasantly surprised at the play’s bold content. Besides portraying strong black women in late nineteenth-century America, the play serves as a reminder that the West was settled by a diverse population. Cleage seeks to inform audiences that the Homestead Act enabled people from all races and genders to own land and to use that land to support themselves, or to develop it and sell it for a profit. The women in the play have left the oppressive South in hopes of enjoying the freedom that they have so long been denied. Flyin’ West remains one of Cleage’s most admired works.