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Atlanta's First Poet Laureate will receive Spelman's 2020 Community Service Award

April 2021

Pearl-CleageSpelman alumna Pearl Cleage, C'71, the first poet laureate of the City of Atlanta, will be awarded Spelman College's 2020 Community Service Award during Commencement on Sunday, May 16, 2021, at 9:30 a.m. Having spent the past several years as the Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at the Tony Award- winning Alliance Theatre, Cleage is the author of “What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day,” which was an Oprah Book Club pick and spent nine weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

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 is scheduled for productions around the country when the theaters reopen next year.

Her other plays premiered at the Alliance include "Pointing at the Moon," "What I Learned in Paris," "Blues for an Alabama Sky," 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.

Her book for children, "In My Granny’s Garden," was co-authored with her husband, writer Zaron W. Burnett with illustrations by Radcliffe Bailey was 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 for the very young in March, 2020 and is currently streaming through the Alliance website.

Cleage recently completed work on "Sit-In," an animated film for young audiences about the sit-in movement in conjunction with Picture the Dream, a national exhibition sponsored by Scholastic Books. "Blues for An Alabama Sky" was included in the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival and has been produced in multiple American theaters every year since it premiered at the Alliance 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 New York in 2020 and is scheduled for a production at the National Theatre in London in 2021. Some of her other plays include "Late Bus to Mecca," "Bourbon at the Border" and "A Song for Coretta." She recently completed her first Radio play, "Digging in the Dark," for the Keen Company’s 2021 season.  

Her first of eight 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 Zaron of "We Speak Your Names," a praise poem commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for her 2005 Legends Weekend, and "A 21st Century Freedom Song: For Selma at 50," commissioned by Winfrey for the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March.

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. 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. Her work has been given grant support through the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulton County Arts Council, the Georgia Council for the Arts, the City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the Coca-Cola Foundation.

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