In this inspiring memoir—that Jane Fonda raves “will make you braver…want to live your life better and make a difference”—the award-winning playwright and bestselling author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day reminisces on the art of juggling marriage, motherhood, and politics while working to hone her craft as a writer.
Before she become one of America’s most popular playwrights and a bestselling author with a novel endorsed by Oprah’s Book Club, Pearl Cleage was a struggling writer going through personal and professional turmoil.
In Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, Cleage takes us back to the 1970s and 80s, when she was a young wife and mother trying to find her voice as a writer. Living in Atlanta, she worked alongside Maynard Jackson, the city’s first black mayor and it was here among fraught politics that she began to feel the pull of her own dreams—a pull that led her away from her husband as she grappled with ideas of feminism and self-fulfillment.
In the tradition of literary giants such as Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, and Maya Angelou, Cleage crafts an illuminating and moving self-portrait in which her “extraordinary experiences, deep social concerns, passionate self-analysis, and personal and artistic liberation, all so openly confided, make for a highly charged, redefining read” (Booklist).
Pearl Cleage is an award-winning playwright whose play Flyin’ West was the most-produced new play in the country in 1994 and a bestselling author whose novels include What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, I Wish I Had a Red Dress, Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, and Baby Brother’s Blues, among others. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Here's the thing about this book: It will make you braver, you'll want to live your life better and make a difference, you'll become more forgiving. My copy is all underlined and dog-eared and I'll probably read it two more times…at least.”
– Jane Fonda
“A journal is the perfect place to watch one’s self grow. Pearl Cleage’s changes are many, in this gift of record keeping during the early, middle, and (a few glimpses at what may be) the later years of her life. The honesty and humor, insight, and determination to show up authentically, is pure Cleage.”
– Alice Walker
“A juicy book. A fun book. Sometimes really sad. But always triumph. Pearl Cleage is at it again. Making us think and feel. Pour a glass of good red wine and indulge yourself. We, who knew it was there and knew it had to come out, need no excuse. We can just sit and turn page after wonderful page. Pearl, whether or not your kid needs it, we do. Things I Should Have Told My Daughter is another gem. I’m wearing it proud.”
– Nikki Giovanni, Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid
“From the moment I opened this book, I knew that I was reading an old friend who would inspire us with her ‘flat-footed truths’ and intellect. I knew her memory would intersect with mine in her walk toward Black womanhood and freedom. I laughed, cried, leaned back on my eyes and hummmmed.”
– Sonia Sanchez, poet and activist
“An enjoyable, nonstop read. Familiar and profound. Pearl’s memories feel like my own. Her lies, lessons and love affairs wash over me like water, sage and lavender. She makes me feel at home in her life.”
– Jasmine Guy
“Pearl Cleage is a truth teller, a soothsayer, and a brilliant storyteller. She tells it like it is, like it was, and like it will be. Things I Never Told My Daughter is an amazing account of Cleage's development as a woman, a mother, and an artist. This is real talk delivered without ego or pretense. This is the book I have been waiting for.”
– Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
“This rich, honest memoir is a gift to all daughters, all women, looking to make their way through life with joy, intelligence and panache. Thank you, Pearl Cleage, for sharing.”
– Tina McElroy Ansa, author of Ugly Ways and Taking After Mudear
“Sister Citizen Pearl Cleage opens up her treasure chest of wit, wisdom, and passion and offers us a lifeline through the late 20th century. In this brilliant, inspiring, memoir, [she] lives out loud and in living color. And before you know it, Sister Pearl has changed your world!”
– Andrea Hairston, author of Redwood and Wildfire
“Pearl's courageous, candid recollections of the ups and downs of her life remind us of our human nature, at times, to doubt and judge ourselves too harshly. Her wit and authenticity allows us to look at our own lives with a bit of levity, compassion and freedom."
– Valerie Jackson
"[Things I Should Have Told My Daughter] shows an intelligent, resilient, remarkable woman bearing witness to the sometimes insane world of politics, to friendships, love, and American culture. Her reflections often made me laugh out loud. Cleage's journals are spellbinding!"
– Deborah Santana
Cleage’s daughter has never wanted to read her mother’s diaries, and after she vetoes Cleage’s plan to leave them to her granddaughter, Cleage revisits her lifelong journal to understand why it matters so much to her. The result is this “representative sample” covering the 1970s and the 1980s, when Cleage was in her twenties and thirties and living in Atlanta. Now a celebrated playwright, screenwriter, and best-selling, Oprah-pick novelist (Till You Hear from Me, 2010), Cleage provides no context for her razor-edge journal entries. Instead, the reader leaps into a tempestuous, in-progress chronicle in which Cleage tells herself, “Best grab your own life and run with it.” Cleage struggles with complicated questions about race and gender that remain urgent and complex today. She writes about concerts (Bruce Springsteen, Grace Jones), movies (Saturday Night Fever), and books (Betty Friedan, Judy Chicago, Henry Miller, Alice Walker). She parses her stressful work as press secretary for Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, and enjoys the demands of writing a newspaper column. She keeps track of the news, pens vivid street scenes, revels in becoming a mother, smokes pot, gets divorced, takes lovers, performs poetry, travels, worries, and vows “TO BE VERY BOLD.” Cleage’s extraordinary experiences, deep social concerns, passionate self-analysis, and personal and artistic liberation, all so openly confided, make for a highly charged, redefining read.
“Cleage gives a history lesson you didn't get in school."
– Deborah Burton-Johnson, founder of Turning Pages Book Club
"In Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, Pearl Cleage writes with the candor, clarity, and integrity that we have come to count on in her work."
– Randall K. Burkett
“The first time that my then six year old son saw Coretta having Sunday dinner at Pascals, he ran up and climbed into her lap. He felt that he knew her and that she belonged to him. She was shocked, pleased and so kind. I felt that same warmth when reading this book. I felt that I knew Pearl (was she my roommate or my best friend?) and that her narrative belonged to me and the other young women (now of a certain age) who grew up during this period of awakening. Now we get to share our lives with our daughters.”