Emory gets Cleage papers

Almost 45 years ago, the noted poet, playwright and Howard University Professor Owen Dodson wrote a note to one of his students, Pearl Cleage.

In it, he praised her early scripts and told her she had great promise as a writer should she stick with it. Cleage saved the note as well as the early plays she wrote as a student, drafts and all. And she did stick with it, becoming a noted playwright, novelist and player in Atlanta arts and politics for the past 40 years.

Today, Emory University will announce it has acquired those early scripts, notes, journals and photographs of Cleage's. The 63-year-old author, whose latest play "What I Learned in Paris," will be the season opener for the Alliance Theatre next month, joins Alice Walker, Salman Rushdie and the late poet Lucille Clifton, in the list of prominent artists who have given their papers to the university in recent years.

The contents of the 86 boxes, now held in the Manuscript, Archive and Rare Book Library at Emory, in many ways trace the evolution of thought about race, race-relations and what it means to be an American. It also documents her leap from press secretary for Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first black mayor, to bestselling author.

"From her earliest years, she was meeting some of the most interesting people in the country," said Randall Burkett, curator of African American Collections at the library. "She's an intellectual and she works in diverse fields always with an eye toward social justice."

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Burkett declined to discuss details of the acquisition, but as a part of the agreement Cleage's journals are sealed until 2037. Cleage said Emory's recent disclosure that it reported inflated test scores to publications that rank colleges and universities, did not make her second guess her decision to give Emory her papers.

"Now a young artist will be able to go in and see the creative process demystified, and on some level that will be valuable," Cleage said.

Pearl Cleage Papers, 1966 to 2011

In the Manuscript, Archive and Rare Book Library at Emory University

Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

540 Asbury Circle, Atlanta



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