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Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs

4.5 2
by Pearl Cleage

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In this inspiring memoir, 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 become a successful writer.

In addition to being one of the most popular living playwrights in America, Pearl Cleage is a bestselling author with an


In this inspiring memoir, 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 become a successful writer.

In addition to being one of the most popular living playwrights in America, Pearl Cleage is a bestselling author with an Oprah Book Club pick and multiple awards to her credit, but there was a time when such stellar success seemed like a dream. In this revelatory and deeply personal work, Cleage takes readers back to the 1970s and ’80s, retracing her struggles to hone her craft amid personal and professional tumult.

Though born and raised in Detroit, it was in Atlanta that Cleage encountered the forces that would most shape her experience. At the time, married to Michael Lomax, now head of the United Negro College Fund, she worked with Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African-American mayor. Things I Should Have Told My Daughter charts not only the political fights but also the pull she began to feel on her own passions—a pull that led her away from Lomax as she grappled with ideas of feminism and self-fulfillment. This fascinating memoir follows her journey from a columnist for a local weekly to a playwright and Hollywood scriptwriter whose circle came to include luminaries Richard Pryor, Avery Brooks, Phylicia Rashad, Shirley Franklin, and Jesse Jackson.

In the tradition of giants such as Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, and Maya Angelou, Cleage’s self-portrait raises women’s confessional writing to the level of fine literature.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Writing is what Cleage, an acclaimed poet (We Don't Need No Music), essayist (Deals with the Devil: And Other Reasons To Riot), novelist (What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day), and award-winning playwright (Flyin' West) does. Here, her journals are the source of a revealing, intimate memoir. With over 50 years of notebooks stashed in cardboard boxes and a steamer trunk, Cleage contemplates their value. Her daughter suggests burning the journals, but Cleage resists; this historical record allows her to remember details and understand how she survived and succeeded. She shares entries from 1970 to 1988 in this volume describing her "mad flight toward financial independence, sexual liberation, creative fulfillment and free womanhood." VERDICT Cleage's observations explode with joy, anxiety, anger, and, of course, honesty; her style is breezy and casual but the content is complex. Her fans will embrace this work, and all readers interested in women's memoirs, especially those focused on the struggle against racism and sexism, will be moved by this title. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/13.]—Kathryn Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN
Publishers Weekly
A sampling of playwright and novelist Cleage’s (What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day) journal entries over 20 years, from 1970 to 1990, as a young journalist, feminist, Civil Rights activist, wife, and mother delineates a long, difficult journey toward self-realization. A student at Spellman College in Atlanta, involved in SNCC meetings and civil rights organizations with her politician husband-to-be. Michael Lomax, Cleage embarked on her journal as race relations were splitting apart the country. Yearning to be a writer, chafing at the constraints of having to ply her way as a journalist, and resentful of the chauvinistic attitudes of men (reading The Feminist Mystique she recognized that, in terms of hiding real issues, “Men have done almost as good a job as white folks”), Cleage tried overall to be true to the ideals she envisioned for herself in her youth. She worked for the election of Maynard Jackson, the first African-American mayor of Atlanta; then got pregnant by the beginning of 1974, prompting many months of fretting about motherhood. Between Maynard’s and her husband’s campaigns, Cleage began to write in earnest in the late 1970s, often working as an itinerant screenwriter, recording her literary findings, and grappling constantly with how to be a sexual being in a committed relationship—thorny questions that led her to leave her marriage and embark on a series of affairs with married men in the 1980s. By turns frank, and wide-eyed, Cleage’s entries reflect a fulsome, tender spirit, hungry for authentic experience, eager for love. (Apr.)
Alice Walker
“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.”
Deborah Burton-Johnson
“Cleage gives a history lesson you didn't get in school."
Randall K. Burkett
"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."
Jane Fonda
“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.”
Collette Hopkins
“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.”
Jasmine Guy
“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.”
Sonia Sanchez
“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.”
Nikki Giovanni
“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.”
Tayari Jones
“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.”
Tina McElroy Ansa
“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.”
Andrea Hairston
“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!”
Valerie Jackson
“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."
Deborah Santana
"[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!"
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.
Kirkus Reviews
Cleage (Just Wanna Testify, 2011, etc.) reprints journal entries chronicling her tumultuous life in the 1970s and '80s. "Do us all a favor," said her now-grown daughter. "Burn them up and be done with it." But the author wants to share the decades in which she discovered her vocation as a playwright, poet and novelist while remaining deeply engaged in political activism, as a speechwriter for the first black mayor of Atlanta, and as a feminist grappling with marriage, motherhood, divorce and subsequent sexual freedom. Entries from the early 1970s in particular plunge us back into a time when a substantial number of young Americans, including African-Americans such as Cleage, honestly believed either a revolution or a fascist takeover was imminent. The great virtue of this seemingly unedited journal is that it gives a vivid sense of a real life's varied nature, with an entry about how women can serve the revolution followed by the author's comments on the film Women in Love. (She's an avid moviegoer, fond of French New Wave and Hollywood alike, and her musical enthusiasms run from Bruce Springsteen to Peabo Bryson.) The drawback is that there are absolutely no notes in the text to do anything as basic as identify "Daddy" (Cleage's father, prominent civil rights activist Bishop Albert Cleage) or the last name of her first husband, Michael (Lomax). Cleage apparently thinks everybody knows all about her public life, and she comes across as self-involved, even within the context of a journal. (The solipsism is leavened by some poignant letters from her dying mother and a couple of tough professional memos to Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson.) She's also ruthlessly candid: about her professional ambitions; her jealousy of more successful writers, especially if they're also female and black; her unabashed indulgence in marijuana and alcohol; and her multiple love affairs, often with married men. Readers won't always like her, but they should know her very well after 300 pages of unmediated effusions. A warts-and-all self-portrait rendered in juicy, robust prose.

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Atria Books
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Meet the Author

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.

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Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, & Love Affairs 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Literary_Marie More than 1 year ago
Some books are meant to be devoured like a soul food meal; other books are best enjoyed in small sips like a fine glass of wine. Things I Should Have Told My Daughter is obvi the latter. I read this memoir very slowly. It is a personal view into an amazing storyteller's life in the 1970s and 1980s. Told in journal format, it is confessional writing at its finest! Literary Marie of Precision Reviews
Anonymous More than 1 year ago