A Filipino American short story writer, novelist, poet, performance artist, and songwriter, Jessica Hagedorn was born in the Santa Mesa section of Manila, Philippines in 1949. She grew up during the chaotic years of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. In 1963, she immigrated to the United States with her mother.
While attending a Catholic school back in the Philippines, Hagedorn was drawn to various aspects of American culture—theater, radio serials, music, Hollywood movies, and literature. Living through her teenage years in San Francisco in the early 1960s, Hagedorn attended San Francisco's Lowell High School, a nationally noted academic institution, and had a real dose of multiculturalism in America. She was interested in rock and roll, black culture, especially black soul music. Such an across-the-board immersion seems to anticipate Hagedorn's long-term passion for a multiple cultural production in her future career. While in high school, though, she often skipped classes to cope with her feeling of alienation. Her English literature teacher somehow nurtured in her a strong passion for art and writing. She graduated from high school in 1967, four years after her arrival in America.
Even though she never went to college, Hagedorn kept writing on her own all along and spent a lot of time with a group of black and Chicana women writers and musicians. Her participation in San Francisco's Kearny Street Writers' Workshop was essential to her pursuit of a literary career. There, she had her first exposure to Asian American history and literature, shared her writing ideas with other writers of color, and got involved in the turmoil, excitement, and changes of the late 1960s. During the 1970s, especially after she