Author Pearl Cleage shares story during annual Ellison Lecture


TUSKEGEE, Alabama (March 29, 2012) — The audience at the 17th annual Ralph Ellison Lecture was taken on a journey through history and self-discovery with author Pearl Cleage on Wednesday. The New York Times bestselling author and activist shared her life story and path as a writer with students and admirers in the auditorium at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center at Tuskegee University.

Cleage described her family as “avid readers and frustrated writers.” She said with such a background she was destined to become an author and has succeeded with more than a dozen works to her credit.

“Our house was always filled with black books and black authors,” she said of her family. “So by the time I was ready for college, choosing to be a writer was no more abstract to me than deciding to be a nurse.”

The daughter of a radical minister and civil rights activist, Cleage told the audience that she is part of a unique generation of writers such as Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni, who blend their work with activism. She went to college during the late 1960s and credits the anti-war, black arts and feminist movements for helping shape her work.

“We were dragging our parents, our professors and our country kicking and screaming into the next phase of our collective national life,” she said. “Is it any wonder I embrace fully the African-American literary tradition that requires both activism and esthetic excellence?”

Cleage said she sees her writing as the perfect place to pursue her responsibilities as an artist and an activist. 

“A writer’s basic job is to seek the truth and speak the truth,” Cleage told the audience.

Despite technology and society’s progression, Cleage said writers will always have a vital place in the world. She said she is part of a great tradition that goes back to ancient times when stories were told around cook fires. She said writers tell the stories of our lives and society, and help us appreciate the preciousness of living.

“Despite the Kindle and the ability to download whole books faster than a writer can say, ‘Copyright Infringement,’ ” she explained, “writing is no less relevant, no less critical and no less necessary in this new America.”

© 2012 Tuskegee University

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