Having her first novel selected by Oprah Winfrey was "a wonderful gift to me," Cleage says. "I also think it was fortunate that it happened when I was 50 as opposed to 25. I think I would have been overwhelmed." After "Oprah," she continues, "The neighbors all expected me to move. I said, `Where would I move?' I love it here."
In fact, she loves it so much that her daughter, Deignan Cleage Lomax, 26, teases her about not leaving the house for days at a time. Not that she's disconnected from the real world. Unlike some authors who favor the peace and quiet of woodsy retreats and writers' colonies, Cleage works in a home office that overlooks a busy cross street. Looking out at the urban landscape "keeps me connected to the reality of what I'm trying to do - wake people up to the possibility that we can build a better community," she says.
Every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., she puts pen to paper - literally. Typing at the computer comes later. "There was a period in my life when I did a lot of secretarial work, so I can type very fast. My hands go much faster than the writing should be. Writing by hand, you slow it down," she explains.
She has also slowed down her outside life, shedding a number of longtime jobs, such as serving as playwright-in-residence at her alma mater, Spelman College, and writing a column for the Atlanta Tribune. Even the theater she runs with her second husband, Zaron W. Burnett Jr., has gone on hiatus.
Except for a forthcoming book tour for "I Wish I Had a Red Dress," Cleage is devoting all her energy to writing. "I always wanted to be a writer, from the time I could walk and talk, and I just think it's so amazing that I'm actually able to do it," she says. "I have absolutely no complaints."
That doesn't mean, however, that Pearl Cleage is growing complacent. For this African-American woman of many words and causes, writing will always be a political act. "As a black American, we're the only group in this country that was legally forbidden to read and write. So it continues to be, for me, an act of defiance on behalf of my ancestors, an act of rebellion," she says. "Writing in general is a way to be free."
Cleage in Baltimore
What: "Flyin' West"
Where: Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St.
When: 4 p.m. today and March 11; 8 p.m. March 9 and 10
What: "Blues for an Alabama Sky"
Where: Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.
When: March 23-April 15. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, matinees at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
What: Pearl Cleage will read from her new novel, "I Wish I Had a Red Dress"
Where: Goucher College, Van Meter Faculty Lounge, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road
When: 8 p.m. March 28