Jess Clarke has lived in Oakland since 1979. A writer, publisher and graphic artist, Clarke was the Editor and Art Director of Race, Poverty and the Environment (RP&E) from 2005-2013, where they assigned, edited, designed and published over 400 articles. The web version of the magazine serves over one million pages per year to tens of thousands of unique visitors each month.
Clarke has been creating community-based art in diverse modalities since the late 1980s when they worked as the program director for an arts center in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district (TREC). For six years Clarke directed writing, music, dance, sculpture, painting and performance workshops using a fusion of peer co-facilitation and guest artists. Each year the workshop participants would come together to create a multi-media art celebration entitled “Spirit of the Streets.” These artistic collaborations, which included homeless people, Vietnamese immigrants, senior citizens, youth and all kinds of Tenderloin residents, were striking aesthetic and political productions that inspired, educated and entertained. This work was documented in Carol Heller’s book, Until We are Strong Together (Teachers College Press, 1997), other university published periodicals and books, by the cable access television program Paper Tiger, and profiled in the San Jose Mercury News, the Tenderloin Times the San Francisco Examiner.
They are the founding editor of Freedom Voices press, which has published over a dozen volumes of poetry from Tenderloin residents as well as novels, memoirs, and art books by diverse San Francisco-based and internationally recognized authors and artists. Clarke edited books by Piri Thomas, Mary TallMountain, Abena Songbird and Subcommandante Marcos.
In 1995, they were the writer and writing workshop facilitator for Pearl Ubungen’s Dance / Theater production “Refugee.” The spoken word text for this site-specific work was created in dialogue with Tenderloin residents and refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. In 1997 they were the Poets and Writers Inc. writer-in-residence at the Oakland Museum where they created the multi-media performance and book Image and Imagination; Encounters with the Photography of Dorothea Lange. The work was performed live at the Oakland Museum Auditorium and Oakland Library and presented in book form. They were California Arts Council artist-in-residence at Media Alliance for three years (1999-2001) where they taught writing and co-directed the award winning San Francisco Arts Commission-funded project called Raising Our Voices. They were also the editor of the award-winning publication MediaFile, from 1998-2004.
In 2006 Clarke was the lead artist in the SOEX Youth Advisory board public art poster project Street Works. Working with students from a cross section of San Francisco high schools Clarke facilitated a poster arts project that was featured at 16 kiosk locations around San Francisco during the 2006-2007 holiday season. Among other aspects of the project, Clarke led the students in a photo-taking and photo-shopping of images from the neighborhood and of themselves which were incorporated into the final image (http://soex.org/Event/84.html). In the spring of 2007 Claarke lead another semester of the program that focused on book arts and resulted in the publication of a book of student created artwork and writing entitled Beyond Our Limits and a celebration of stencil art using spray-chalk to tag clothes and sidewalks at the reading celebrating the launch of the book. (soex.org/education/32.html)
They are currently (2013) studying theater arts at Laney College and the Pan Theater in Oakland. They are the principal worker-owner of the design and production group, Red Star Black Rose.