Jessica Hagedorn

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Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn is a Filipino-American playwright, author, poet, storyteller, musician, and multimedia performance artist currently living in the U.S. Her first novel, Dogeaters (1990), was nominated for a National Book Award. Her other works include the novels The Gangster of Love (1996), Dream Jungle (2003), and the poetry anthology Dangerous Music (1975), among others.

Hagedorn is considered a prominent artist in the post-colonial literature scene. Her works explore the issues inherent in Filipino society and the struggles encountered by Filipino-American immigrants, and discusses such themes as corruption, imperialism and identity-formation.

She is known to integrate different literary styles in her works to explore her chosen themes. She weaves together poetry, fiction, music and performance art to represent the formation of the Asian-American identity amidst the backdrop of popular American culture.

Early life and career

Hagedorn was born in Manila, Philippines on 29 May 1949, to a Scots-Irish-French-Filipino mother and a Filipino-Spanish father. She lived in the Philippines for the first fourteen years of her life, before immigrating to San Francisco with her mother in 1963. She took acting lessons in the American Conservatory Theater's training program, where she also learned several disciplines like martial arts, fencing and mime-acting. This multi-perspective approach to theater is later reflected in her future works.

Within three years of Hagedorn's arrival in the US, her poems caught the attention of Kenneth Rexroth, an artist based in San Francisco at that time. He encouraged her to pursue writing, and eventually edited the first book that featured some of her poetry, Four Young Women, published in 1973. While she was studying and writing, Hagedorn was also a lyricist for her performance rock band called the West Coast Gangster Choir, later shortened to Gangster Choir.

In 1977, Hagedorn collaborated with her friends and fellow Gangster Choir members Thulani Davis and Ntozake Shange to create Where the Mississipi Meets the Amazon, produced by Joseph Papp. She then relocated to New York to pursue a career as a playwright and musician, and reunited with Papp to produce her first play, Mango Tango, in 1978. She collaborated with Laurie Carlos and Robbie McCauley to create the theatrical play Teenytown in 1988 and again with Han Ong on another theater-suited creation, Airport Music, in 1994. She also wrote the screenplay for Fresh Kill (originally titled Wasteland), a film by Sue Lea Chang.

Published works and literary style

Hagedorn's early career was marked by her theatrical works such as Chiquita Banana (1972), a satire on Carmen Miranda, and Tenement Lover: no palm trees/in New York City (1981), in which she taps into her experience as an immigrant in New York.

Hagedorn fuses the rhythmic styles of the 1960s counterculture movement with her own background in theater and music to express the state of the Filipina mind in the post-colonial world. Most of her poems are in monologue form, and act as literary media for the voices of women caught in between two different cultures.

The 1971 poem “The Death of Anna May Wong”, Hagedorn's addition to Four Young Women, follows the life of an Asian-American film actress whose career started in the silent movie era and ended during World War II. In the poem, Wong represents the Asian-American woman stereotype in the mass media. The impact of stereotypical representations on minority groups is a recurring theme in Hagedorn's works.

Popular music is another motif in Hagedorn's poetry. For example, her first solo poetry collection, Dangerous Music, incorporates jazz and rock music rhythms.

Hagedorn's Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions (1981) is a sexually-charged novella that incorporates surreal elements in narratives and musical poems. It was published together with the comic novel Pet Food, a story about a Filipino-American teenager who leads a bohemian life and encounters various kinds of people everyday. The novella won her the reputation of an experimental artist and the American Book Award, and helped her to acquire the Macdowell Colony Fellowships in 1985 and 1986. Hagedorn won another Macdowell Fellowship in 1988, which allowed her to complete her work on Dogeaters.

Hagedorn also caught critical attention when she edited Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, which was published in 1993. It was the first Asian-American anthology of its kind to be published in the US, containing works by Carlos Bulosan, Hisaye Yamamoto, Toshio Mori, Gish Jen, Maxine Hong Kingston, Bharati Mukherjee and Amy Tan. She also edited its sequel, Charlie Chan Is Dead II: At Home in the World: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, published in 2004.

Dogeaters and Other Novels

Dogeaters (1990), Hagedorn's first novel and best known work, is set in the Philippines during the 1950s. The novel depicts the social stratifications and socio-political condition of the country at the time, including political violence and the remains of Western colonialism, and was a nominee for the National Book Award in the US.

The Gangster of Love (1996), Hagedorn's second novel, experiments with shifting narrators and dream-like narratives by Asian American immigrants. It follows Raquel “Rocky” Rivera and her family's immigration from her native country, the Philippines, to the United States. The book's title is taken from the name of the rock band that Rivera formed with her boyfriend.

In 2003 Hagedorn published Dream Jungle, a novel about a “lost tribe” in Mindanao. The book is rather similar to Dogeaters in terms of setting and narrative style, as well as structure.

Works and Anthologies

Plays and productions

  • Chiquita Banana (1972) - a one-act play
  • Mango Tango (1977) - her first play
  • Teenytown (1988)
  • Airport Music (1994)
  • Tenement Lover (1981)
  • Holy Food (1988),

Novels and novellas

  • Pet Food and Tropical Apparitions (1981)
  • Dogeaters (1990)
  • Gangster of Love (1996)
  • Dream Jungle (2003).


1. Anthologies of Jessica Hagedorn's own work:

2. Anthologies edited by her:

3. Anthologies that include her work:*Four Young Women: Poems (1973) - edited by Kenneth Rexroth


External links



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