On Tuesday march 19th the esteemed playwright and novelist Pearl Cleage delivered a lecture to students and faculty of Claflin University in Orangeburg, SC. The Theme of the lecture was that of the writer’s responsibility to tell the truth accurately and the reader’s job is to interpret it thusly. The central theme of the lecture was the use of the term “nigger” in recent works of art, in the theater and cinema. Mrs. Cleage argued the point that to take out certain words from a piece is to censor an artist's work which in turn changes the meaning and impact of that work's relevance. When words become more discussed than the actual context of a piece of art the impact of what the work is and was is then loss. Mrs. Cleage noted that if a word can be banned then a book could be burned, but books don't go to jail. Her final point was that artists and writers have to be brave enough to tell the truth, to write that novel or play and perform a poem out loud. Censorship is about fear and control yet any work of art is a fight for some sort of freedom. In quoting Amir Baraka, she stated that artists should “write something so bad they have to ban it.”
In a lecture later that evening, Mrs. Cleage delivered a lecture on the state of citizenship of African Americans in this “New America”. The Black freedom struggle still continues and for artists and activists writing in a “new America” means that we remake the nation as a place to feed the hungry, educate the nation and continue living in a newfound peace of Black nationalism.
The words of Pearl Cleage gave me life, from the first page of “What Looks Like Crazy on An Ordinary Day” to her first lecture I heard aloud. She gives meaning and confirmation to the struggle and burden that every writer carries. The words of the national anthem to “Lift every voice and sing”, never rang clearer to my ears till I hear Pearl Cleage, recite them in a speech. Words carry a Power, they are the active involvement of informed citizens, that is us To make real the promise of democracy. As writers we do more than tell history or tell what happened, we tell how the people felt about what happened. Mrs. Cleage’s advise to budding writers was to “write every day, be involved in the issues and to ask why certain things are happening and why people are reacting his way. It is my plan to do just that as a writer who is trying to change this nation, One word at a time.