Portrait of Jessica Hegedorn
Jessica Hagedorn

I write really because I have to and if the writing also destroys some of those myths and subverts forms and makes people question the very idea of the writer, the woman, the Filipino-American, the whatever, great! ~Jessica Hagedorn

Playwright, writer, poet, and multimedia performance artist Jessica Hagedorn was born and raised in the Philippines, moving to the U.S. with her mother as a teenager. It was then, at 14 years old, that she started to write poetry more seriously.

I started writing seriously then. I had always written. As a child, I loved to read and I always thought of myself as a writer. You know, I was very dramatic. I would write little poems and I loved to make little comic books. I would illustrate them, four-page comic books, and thought of myself as a writer. When I was fourteen, my mother gave me a typewriter, thank heavens, and I guess she thought that would be a healthy way to keep me at home. I would type poems and read.

Early on her focus was on writing poetry and plays, as well as making music. She moved to New York City in her late 20s to pursue these interests. Her first play was produced the same year. She’s since produced three more plays. Her mixed media style often incorporates song, poetry, images, and spoken dialogue.

Hagedorn received three MacDowell Colony fellowships, which helped enable her to write the novel Dogeaters, winner of the American Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. She later turned the book into a play by the same name. She’s written three other novels as well — ToxicologyDream Jungle, and The Gangster Of Love. “What made me want to write a novel was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez.” When asked what she brings to fiction from her background in poetry and music, she replies simply, “Rhythm. And I think the love of language, the sheer word play. I love words. The sound of words.”

Hagedorn has written a screenplay, scripts for TV, and for 10 years was the leader of a band called The Gangster Choir. Her list of honors and prizes is long, including a Gerbode, Hewlett Foundations’ Playwriting Award, a Lucille Lortel Playwrights’ Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fiction Fellowship, a Kesselring Prize Honorable Mention for Dogeaters, an NEA-TCG Playwriting Residency Fellowship, as well as fellowships from the Sundance Playwrights’ Lab and the Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab. She’s taught in the MFA Playwriting Program at Yale, and in the MFA Creative Writing Program at LIU Brooklyn, NYU and Columbia University.