Friday, May 2, 2014

Pearl Cleage gets candid in new memoir, NPR interview

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Best-selling Atlanta author and playwright Pearl Cleage made an appearance yesterday on NPR's "Tell Me More" to talk about her new memoir Things I Should Have Told My Daughter. It covers 18 years of personal journal entries in which she candidly writes about her early experiences with drugs, growing up in a family of civil rights activists, having an abortion, and her early struggles to find the truth in her writing. According to Cleage, the material is so revealing that her daughter suggested she throw the journals away when Cleage suggested saving them for her granddaughter. She decided to publish them instead.

In one exchange during the interview, Tell Me More host Michel Martin asks Cleage what it was like to work as press secretary for Mayor Maynard Jackson during his inaugural term in the mid-1970s. She talks about being divided between politics and her passion to pursue the arts.

CLEAGE: I was raised in a very activist household so that I grew up surrounded by people who were activists. My father formed political parties, ran for office all the time, they founded a newspaper. I mean - so my family was very involved in the civil rights movement in freedom struggles so that it was just a part of our lives. As I grew older, I was going to be a writer, always knew it, but I always knew that that writing was going to be grounded in the kind of activism that had defined my life as a member of this very political family.

The hard thing about that for me was when I became involved in politics at the level that I was working for the mayor because then I couldn't be myself as a writer because I had to be writing for him. I had to write in his voice, I had to be conscious of fulfilling his dream, which was very important. He wanted to be a great first African-American mayor of Atlanta and he was. But that was another kind of life path that really didn't include me.

I didn't have a dream of being a press secretary, I had a dream of being a playwright, I had a dream of being a novelist and a poet. There was a point where I really had to say I can't write a love poem with the mayor's voice in my ear, I have to be able to hear myself talk, I have to be able to hear myself think, which is when I resigned and ran screaming from city hall and never went back.

Listen to the full interview on NPR.

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