Artist Bio

Pearl Cleage

(Bio as of March 2023)

Pearl Cleage is currently Distinguished Artist in Residence at Atlanta’s Tony Award winning Alliance Theatre. Her new play Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous, had its world premiere as a part of the theatre’s 50th anniversary season in 2019 and recently completed a successful run at Hartford Stage. Both productions were directed by Susan V. Booth. Her other plays premiered at the Alliance include Pointing at the Moon, What I Learned in Paris, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Bourbon at the Border, and Flyin’ West, the most produced new play in the country in 1994. 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 co-produced with the Alliance in Montgomery and Atlanta in 2010. Her first play for young audiences, Tell Me My Dream, was commissioned and produced by the Alliance in 2015. For the last fourteen years, Cleage has served as playwright to The Palefsky Collision Project, an endowed program for metro Atlanta teens.  

Cleage recently completed work on Sit-In, an animated film for young audiences about the sit-in movement that has been shown free to students throughout Georgia. Her book for children, In My Granny’s Garden, was co-authored with her husband, writer Zaron W. Burnett with illustrations by painter Radcliffe Bailey as a part of the Mayor’s Reading Club in 2018 and distributed free to 15,000 Atlanta children. It was presented at the Alliance as a play under the direction of Rosemary Newcott for the very young in March, 2020 and outside on the Woodruff Arts Center piazza in April, 2022. Cleage and Burnett are frequent collaborators including their award-winning ten-year performance series, “Live at Club Zebra!” featuring their work as writers and performance artists.  

Blues for An Alabama Sky has become part of the American theatrical canon. Commissioned and directed by Kenny Leon in 1995,  the Alliance included a 20th anniversary production in their 2015 season, directed by Susan V. Booth. The play ran off Broadway at the Keen Company in 2020 and recently completed a 2022 run at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles under the direction of Phylicia Rashad. The production at London’s National Theatre in the Fall of 2022 was nominated for two Olivier Awards. Blues recently ran at The Guthrie Theatre in 2023 and is scheduled for a production at The McCarter Theatre in the Spring. Cleage is currently working on a new play commissioned by Ford Theatre’s Lincoln Legacy Project. The piece, Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard will explore the impact of Jackson’s election as Atlanta’s first African American Mayor in l973. It will be produced at Ford’s Theatre in the fall of 2023 and at the Alliance Theatre in January of 2024 as part of the citywide celebration of that historic election. 

Her first of 8 novels, 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 other novels include Baby Brother’s Blues, which received an NAACP Image Award for Literature, I Wish I Had A Red Dress, Babylon Sisters, and Things I Never Thought I’d Do.  Her memoir, Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons and Love Affairs, was published by Simon and Schuster/ATRIA Books in April, 2014. She is also the co-author with her husband, writer Zaron W. Burnett, Jr., of We Speak Your Names, a praise poem commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for her 2005 Legends Weekend. Cleage was awarded the Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2018. She received an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from her alma mater, Spelman College, in 2010 and spent two years as a member of the Spelman faculty. She was the founding editor of CATALYST Magazine, an Atlanta-based literary journal for ten years and served as Artistic Director of Just Us Theater Company for five years.  She currently serves as Atlanta’s first Poet Laureate.