Pearl Michelle Cleage was born December 7, 1948 in Springfield, Massachussetts, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Her father, Albert Cleage, was a prominent minister who founded his own church, the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church; her mother, Doris, was an elementary school teacher. Albert Cleage ran for governor of Michigan in 1962 on the Freedom Ticket. He later became a Black Nationalist and changed his name to Jaramogi Abebe Agyemen.
An academically gifted student in high school, Cleage enrolled at Howard University in 1966 where she studied playwrighting and had two one-act plays produced. She left Howard in 1969 at the age of twenty to marry Michael Lomax, an Atlanta politician. The two divorced in 1979. Upon graduating in 1971 from Spelman College, Pearl Cleage worked at a number of media jobs including hosting a local, black-oriented interview program as well as being Director of Communications for the city of Atlanta and Press Secretary for Mayor Maynard Jackson.
Cleage began her playwriting career in the 1980’s with productions of puppetplay, Hospice, Good News, and Essentials. This was in addition to contributing essays to national magazines such as Essence, the New York Times Book Review, Ms., and Black World. In 1990 and 1991 she published collections of her essays entitled respectively, Mad at Miles and Deals with the Devil. Cleage gained national attention as a playwright beginning in 1992 with the production of her play Flyin’ West which premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and has subsequently been produced at a number of regional theatres across the country. Flyin’ West was followed by Blues for an Alabama Sky and Bourbon at the Border which have only added to her reputation and popularity as a playwright.
An essayist, poet, and journalist, Cleage currently is Playwright in Residence at Spelman College, the editor of Catalyst, and Artistic Director of Just Us Theater Company. She has received grants from the NEA, the City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the Georgia Council for the Arts. Most recently she has written a bestselling novel entitled, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, an Oprah Bookclub selection.