Writing Lessons: Jessica Pishko

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Jessica Pishko, a composition teacher at San Francisco State University and at the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison. You can follow her on Twitter @jesspish—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

headshot2In order to get into San Quentin, I pass through two sets of gates, signing my name each time. The anxiety isn’t that you shouldn’t be there, but rather to ensure that you are permitted to leave.

Once I’m inside the gates and in the classroom, my students—all inmates serving time at San Quentin—are just my students. I don’t know why they are there, and I don’t want to. To me, they are their research interests, their questioning minds, and their individual journeys towards mastering the craft of writing.

But when I ask them to consider their audience, they seem momentarily confused. Picture someone else reading your work, I urge them. Tell me why a reader should care.

This is advice I give to all of my composition students. To these students, however, the idea of an outside audience signals something else entirely—the whole world outside the gates, a world into which they will eventually reenter.

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Literary Boroughs #28: San Francisco and North Bay (Part One)

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the twenty-eighth post on San Francisco and North Bay, by Dani Burlison. Part One of this (epic!) post will run today; check back this Friday for Part Two. —Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

“It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears
is said to be seen in San Francisco.
It must be a delightful city and possess
all the attractions of the next world”

― Oscar Wilde

Photo credit: Caitlin Childs

Oh, San Francisco. Land of Milk and Honey, land of ghosts of Beatniks past. Land where new poets spring forth with every rumbling of your fault lines. One can almost sense the alphabet circling in the foggy Pacific that rolls through your streets, letters begging to be plucked from the air and arranged in brilliant words across blank sheets of paper. Oh, San Francisco, you’re the best. I will try to do you justice here.

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