As many of you may know, SOTA was recently renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts after the famous artist who helped found the school. At the renaming ceremony, Hosana, a sophomore in Creative Writing, read a statement about SOTA and the Creative Writing Department from author Dave Eggers. Yes, THE Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, Zeitoun, and others, and co-founder of 826 Valencia, founder of McSweeney’s, etc. You get the idea. He’s a big deal. The department is honored to have this endorsement from such a prestigious author and publisher. So, here it is, folks:
“I’ve been teaching weekly high school classes at 826 Valencia for about ten years now, and the high school most often represented in these classes is the School of the Arts. When 826 Valencia opened its doors in 2002, SOTA kids started flooding in for evening workshops, weekend activities, and our summer writing and publishing intensive. And it became clear from the start that SOTA students were uniformly hard-working, self-possessed, knowledgeable and sophisticated about their place in the world, and very serious about pursuing careers in the arts. So serious, in fact, that even after the schoolday was done, they were hungry for more. That means that SOTA is doing something — maybe everything — right. The educators at SOTA are lighting a fire within these young people, making them passionate and insatiable makers and students of the arts. Without a doubt, if I had grown up in San Francisco, I would have fought like hell to attend the School of the Arts.
The entire city owes a great debt to Ruth Asawa for her vision and persistence in making SOTA a reality, and it’s only fitting that the school’s new marquee gives her her due.
I don’t know what 826 Valencia would do without partners like SOTA, and without gifted educators like Heather Woodward.
Every year, when I’m putting together the roster for my class, which produces the anthology The Best American Nonrequired Reading, the very first thing I do is email Heather Woodward, the extraordinary creative writing head at SOTA, and say, “Send me your best and brightest.” I’m looking for young people who want to spend every Tuesday night reading contemporary literature, from the Paris Review to Granta to Mother Jones, and then break down and debate what we read. I need serious young people who can and want to read at a college level, and have no fear of hard work and of articulating their ideas among a stellar group of high schoolers from all over the Bay Area.
And invariably, Heather sends me three or four phenomenal young people who thrive and make SOTA proud. Just last week, we had our first class of the year, and there were four new SOTA students in attendance, all of them hugely impressive. It’s something I treasure every year, seeing the newest group of SOTA kids come through the door, hearing their stories, seeing them thrive.
I’ve been to a number of arts high schools around the country, and SOTA is among the very best. And this is borne out in how well SOTA students do in college. I write recommendations for the students in my classes, and SOTA students have gone onto a very impressive array of colleges all over the nation. I fully expect them to become major cultural contributors as adults — not just because they’re talented artists, but because SOTA instills in them a sense of art’s crucial role in social change….