Pearl Cleage Joins MARBL ‘Pantheon’

Author adds to Emory's African American archives

By Maureen McGavin

Nationally recognized playwright, poet, novelist, and social activist Pearl Cleage has placed her papers at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), adding new depth to the library’s extensive African American holdings.

Randall K. Burkett, curator of African American collections, says the acquisition of Cleage’s papers “adds luster to our holdings of brilliant African American women writers, artists, and activists, including Camille Billops, Elaine Brown, Lucille Clifton, and Alice Walker. Cleage fits well in this pantheon of leading creative figures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

Cleage said she decided to place her papers with MARBL at Emory for several reasons, including prior discussions with the late Professor Rudolph Byrd, a MARBL supporter, and with Burkett.

“I really appreciated the way Randall approached collecting African American material as an integral part of American culture,” she says. “Emory was a place that would value the work that I’ve done and make the papers available in a way that would make it productive to place them there.”

Of special interest will be letters written to her parents, who were passionate social activists, from the time Cleage enrolled at Howard University in 1967 and continuing through the 1980s. The collection also includes documentation of her long collaboration with her husband, writer Zaron W. Burnett Jr.

Cleage is best known for her novels What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day and Babylon Sisters, as well as for her plays Blues for an Alabama Sky and Flyin’ West.

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