Pearl Cleage (pronounced “cleg”) was born on December 7, 1948, in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Doris and Reverend Albert B. Cleage, Jr. She was reared in Detroit, where her father’s ministry allowed her to hear speakers such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Cleage graduated from high school and then went to Howard University in Washington, D.C., during the turbulent 1960s. After three years, she transferred to Spelman College in Atlanta, where she graduated in 1971 with a degree in drama.
In 1969, Cleage married Michael Lomax, a politician. The marriage lasted ten years and produced a daughter named Deignan. Cleage remarried in 1994. Her second husband, Zaron Burnett, Jr., is a writer and producing director of Just Us Theatre Company in Atlanta, Georgia, where the couple met. Cleage was the theater’s first playwright- in-residence, and she and Burnett collaborated on several works after she became the artistic director in 1992. Another Atlanta theater, The Alliance Theater, is responsible for debuting some of Cleage’s most notable plays. Among these is Flyin’ West (1992), the play credited with gaining Cleage a widespread theatrical audience.
In her first novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (1997), Cleage depicts the life of Ava Johnson, a modern African-American woman struggling with her HIV-positive status. When this novel was selected for talk-show host Oprah Winfrey’s book club, Cleage reached a...
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