Her Bum Is on Fire: Jessica Hagedorn debuts with her latest novel
After years of chatting on the phone and sending various e-mails back and forth, I finally got the chance to meet writer extraordinaire Jessica Hagedorn. With her classic coming-of-age debut novel, Dogeaters, her compilation of Asian Pacific American writings, Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, which she edited, her various plays and her multimedia performance pieces – not to mention her inspiring politics – Hagedorn has long been recognized as both a leader and a mentor at the forefront of Asian Pacific America.
On that recent Sunday morning in New York City, we finally came face-to-face in front of a closed bubble tea salon. She greets me with open arms, and she’s as warm, energetic, passionate, and downright entertaining as I expected. No bubble green tea just yet. (A few months back, she actually sent me an entire list of the best bubble tea salons throughout lower Manhattan). Instead, we settled on a nearby Japanese restaurant.
“The cast and crew hung out here almost every day when we were doing Dogeaters at the Public [Theater],” Hagedorn comments, referring to the much-lauded stage production of her classic novel, directed by Michael Greif, he of Rent fame. In between bites, I grilled her about her much anticipated new novel, Dream Jungle, which debuts this week.
In Dream Jungle, Hagedorn uses part history – she intertwines the alleged discovery of an ancient “lost tribe” in the remote hills of the Philippines with the problematic filming of Apocalypse Now – intermixed with memories from her own life to create a tense, taut work of fiction that encompasses everything from the legacy of colonialism, class struggles, family relationships, and responsibilities to the inevitable love story (of sorts).
AsianWeek: So where did find your initial inspiration for Dream Jungle?
Jessica Hagedorn: It was the death of a man. I don’t read the paper every day, but on one particular day, I happened to be come across an article in The New York Times about the death of Manuel Elizalde Jr., who was a very colorful figure I remembered from my childhood in the Philippines. Our families knew each other. I actually just wrote about this for a recent issue of Time Asia [www.time.com/time/asia/2003/journey/philippines.html]. The scene in the book in which Paz [a Filipino American journalist who returns to her native Philippines to cover a story for an American publication] goes to talk to Zamora [Dream Jungle’s fictionalized version of Elizalde] is actually autobiographical. I was at my mother’s house in San Francisco decades ago, and at the time, Elizalde was on The Dick Cavett Show, I think. My mother said to me, “Do you believe this? He’s still being looked at as a heroic man!” Reading the Times article, I remembered all that, and eventually wrote a pitch for Dream Jungle. …[click here for more]
Tidbit: The fabulous MIZZ Hagedorn was a guest, together with the equally wonderful Sabina Murray and Helen Zia, for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program‘s ”Contemporary Asian American Writers“ public program on September 29, 2004.