Jessica Hagedorn was born in the Santa Mesa district of Manila in the Philippines in 1949 and spent her childhood in the midst of a family that considered literary and artistic activities to be a vital part of life. As a child, Hagedorn was influenced by her mother, an artist, and by her grandfather, a writer and political cartoonist, as well as by a cultural milieu that included American movies, Tagalog radio melodramas, and classic literature in the Western tradition. Hagedorn recalls attempting her first “novel” at the age of eight, writing “The End” on the last page of the little “books” she created. When she was thirteen, her parents divorced, and her artist mother moved to the United States with their three children and settled in San Francisco, where the young Hagedorn continued writing poetry and creating comic books. When a family friend sent samples of Hagedorn’s poetry to the poet Kenneth Rexroth, he became a mentor, giving her permission to sit in on his creative writing classes at San Francisco State University and taking her with his own daughter to poetry readings. Rexroth encouraged her to read widely and to continue writing and included her work in Four Young Women, a collection that he edited in 1973.
Growing up in the San Francisco of the 1960’s, Hagedorn was immersed in the diversity of the city and inspired by the growing multicultural consciousness that pervaded both the literary and social environments. Among the authors whose work she read and now cites as influential are Amiri Baraka, Gabriel García Márquez, Bienvenido Santos, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Ishmael Reed. Through her involvement with San Francisco’s Kearny Street Writers’ Workshop, she deepened her awareness of and empathy with her own literary and historical heritage as an Asian American. These influences, together with those of her childhood in Manila, ultimately led to the unique brand of performance writing for which Hagedorn is known.
Hagedorn very early took an interest in the performing arts; her first stage appearance—at sixteen—was at the Straight Theatre in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. Instead of going to college, she decided to enter the two-year theater arts program at American Conservatory Theatre, where she studied acting, as well as martial...
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