Jessica Hagedorn Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

When Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn (HAY-guh-dohrn) saw her first novel, Dogeaters, nominated for the 1990 National Book Award, it propelled her to prominence in American letters, but her status was the product of decades of gestation. She once said that she had “been writing pretty much all my life,” noting that her grandfather, too, was a writer and that she wrote four-page “little novels,” as she terms them, at the age of six and seven. Although she emphasizes that she always wanted to work in theater, as a performer, writer, or director, her early literary effort was directed toward poetry.

Hagedorn emigrated to San Francisco in 1961. She expressed her gratitude to Kenneth Rexroth for his help and encouragement in her dedication to him of Danger and Beauty. An even more seminal influence at that time was the milieu of what she terms the “artists of color” in the Bay Area. She has singled out Ntozake Shange and Thulani Davis as particularly valuable to her career development, as both a writer and a performer, and acknowledges the early work of Winston Tong and Ping Chong’s Nuit Blanche (pr. 1981). Because she wished to see family in Manila during the years of martial law, she visited the Philippines as often as twice a year. Her emotional ties to the country of her birth remain strong, constituting a marked cultural influence. To finish Dogeaters, for example, she returned to Manila for a few months in 1988.

Instead of attending college, she set out to realize her ambition to work in the theater by training with the American Conservatory Theatre. The regimen encompassed mime, acting, fencing, martial arts, and t’ai chi, a perfect program for Hagedorn, whose works’ prominent characteristic is eclecticism. She considers herself a...

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Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn considers herself “a hybrid” of multiple nationalities. She was born in the Philippines in 1949, but her mother is Scotch-Irish-French-Filipino and her father is Filipino-Spanish. Her grandmother was “pure Filipino” but her great-grandmother was Chinese. Because of this diversity, some critics question both her Asian and Filipina identities, but Hagedorn prefers to be considered a writer first, not an Asian or Filipina writer.

Hagedorn grew up in a family that valued art and literature. Her mother was an artist and her grandfather was a writer and political cartoonist. She attempted to write her first novel at age eight. Hagedorn’s parents divorced when she was thirteen. She moved to San Francisco in 1963 with her mother and two older brothers. She and her brothers were told that they would be leaving in a week. “We said goodbye to everyone and everything in those seven days,” she explains in an interview. Growing up in the Philippines had exposed Hagedorn to American culture much earlier, however. For example, she enjoyed listening to American rock-and-roll music when she was only seven years old. Music would later become an important part of her life. She also watched American movies and listened to Filipino radio dramas, so theater and media also influenced her early life.

The diversity of 1960s San Francisco shaped Hagedorn’s eclectic tastes and ultimately her writing style. She admired Beat poets such as Amiri Baraka (aka Leroi Jones) and the Black Arts Movement and often credits poets Gabriel García Márquez and Bienvenido Santos as having influenced her writing. Hagedorn had been writing poetry since childhood. After living in San Francisco for only three years, a friend showed her poems to the poet Kenneth Rexroth who encouraged her to perfect her craft. Rexroth often invited Hagedorn to his home to visit with him and his daughter, who was the same age as Hagedorn. Rexroth later...

(The entire section is 618 words.)