W – Flyin’ WEST

This is my tenth A to Z Challenge. My first was in 2013, but I missed 2021. This April I am going through the alphabet using snippets about my family through the generations.

Pearl Cleage is my sister and I remember seeing this play when it was first produced in Atlanta. I believe I tried to warn the actors at one point to beware the villian. Of course they ignored me, but he got his come-up-ins. Below is part of an interview with Pearl by Arts Atl talking about how she was visited by Miss Leah while driving and came to write Flyin’ West. You can read the full interview at the link.

ArtsATL: In the program notes for the 20th-anniversary production of “Flyin’ West,” you write that the origin of the play was hearing the voice of the character “Miss Leah” speak to you. Could you talk about that moment?

Pearl Cleage: Well, I’d never really had that kind of experience before. I’m not a mystical kind of writer where I go someplace and the voices of my characters speak to me. I was driving down the freeway, and I heard a woman’s voice talking and it sounded like she was sitting in the back seat of my car. She was talking about having had 10 children in slavery, and they were all sold away. She was talking so clearly that I actually turned around to see if someone had gotten into my car while it was parked. And of course there was no one there. I was trying to write down what she said and drive on the freeway, which was not a good idea. I got off the freeway at Piedmont and International Boulevard and pulled into a little parking lot and just wrote down what I remembered she had said, and it made its way into the play almost exactly as I’d heard it.

It was amazing to me, because I’d never had that experience before and because I had not had an interest in these settlements or that part of American history. I had known something about the settlements but hadn’t really been trying to dig into that part of history. But I was like, “I’m enough of a mystic to know a sign when I see one.”

#AtoZChallenge 2023 letter W

16 thoughts on “W – Flyin’ WEST

  1. No that’s my kind of story!! Right up my alley!! More! More! Great stuff Kris! ????????????????

  2. Amazing story. Did your sister write many plays? I actually studied theatre in school(mostly stagecraft and lighting), but I ended up in another career and haven’t worked on a play in years. Except my kids dance shows and school projects. 🙂

    1. Yes. She’s a playwrite! She studied playwriting at Howard University and she’s still writing plays today and is currently Distinguished Artist in Residence at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. She’s written quite a few novels too.

      1. Hi Kristin! When the ancestors speak, we are compelled to listen. Love this year’s Challenge stories.
        A lot to catch up on, will email you soon. Hope all is well.

  3. Oh wow, that is remarkable! That would be amazing, and also scary. If that happened to me, I feel like I might end up crashing my car… I’m glad your sister is a better driver than I am. And it is interesting how specific she is about where the voice sounded like it was coming from. I do know what it is like to have a character talk to me in my head, but she clearly means something else entirely, which I have never experienced. Amazing!

  4. Amazing story! It reminds me of writer Isabelle Allende, who had a similar experience in while stuck in a traffic jam in Caracas, Venezuela. All she had to write on was her checkbook, so she pulled over as your sister did and wrote on the back of the checks. Thank goodness Pearl heard and heeded that voice.

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