PEN In The Classroom Community Interview With LAAAA Executive Director Jack Martinez

Charles Renn, LAAAA Community Director; Heather Simons, PITC Program Manager; and Jack Martinez, LAAAA Executive Director, at the John Marshall High School PITC final reading in January.


Last fall, the Los Angeles Arts and Athletics Alliance (LAAAA) sponsored a PEN In The Classroom writing residency with an 11th grade English class at John Marshall High School in Los Feliz. PITC talked with LAAAA’s Executive Director Jack Martinez about why the organization decided to partner with PITC and how the success of the program is helping LAAAA give back to the community.

PITC: What motivated LAAAA to sponsor a PEN In The Classroom (PITC) residency?

JM: The idea came about when Michelle Meyering, the Director of Programs and Events at PEN, reached out to us about a potential partnership. As we learned more about the organization, we heard a lot about its flagship program, PEN In The Classroom. With our literary programming and our mission to promote a lifelong engagement with arts and athletics, supporting PITC seemed like the perfect way for our organizations to work together.

PITC: Why did you choose John Marshall High School as the recipient of this residency?

JM: We chose John Marshall High School because it is the main high school in the area where we host the Jubilee. We came to find out later that the classroom teacher, Jill Diamond, had previously hosted a PITC residency in the nineties, but we didn’t know that at the time. The bottom line is that John Marshall is a school in our community, and we like to use our resources to support the area that supports us. We have more than two hundred volunteers from the community at the Jubilee, and a ton of those volunteers have come from the school from day one.

PITC: You have signed on to sponsor two more PITC residencies in the future. Why have you chosen to continue your sponsorship of the program?

JM: We are really happy to work with PITC, in general. What came out of the classroom, in the form of a final anthology of student writing, was so wonderful and obviously a positive experience for so many people. We see a benefit in stepping up what we do—if we can offer anything more, that’s what we like to do. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community. People have been calling the office and asking for additional copies of the anthology. Every anthology we’ve received from PEN has made its way out the door. We’ve even sent copies to our local council members. It’s a really great thing.

PITC: Students from John Marshall High School have been invited to read on-stage at the Jubilee this May. What is the goal of the Jubilee, and how does PITC fit into that equation?

JM: LAAAA’s mission is to promote a lifelong engagement in arts and athletics, and the Jubilee’s main focus is the arts. PITC fits into that because we believe that a good buy-in for a lifelong engagement with something is to have a positive experience with it at all ages. The younger you are when that positive experience starts, with creative writing or any sort of artistic exploration, the better off you are. The students obviously benefit from going through the PITC program, but I feel like, on so many other levels, other people also benefit from what the students are able to create. Parents, grandparents, friends, and strangers all enjoy the student’s writing. When they read at the Jubilee, more people will be exposed to their great work and be inspired, just by knowing that it’s happening.

PITC: Why is it important to support the arts in the community?

JM: It’s always refreshing to get another perspective on life. The arts provide another perspective, as well as an outlet for people to express their unique perspectives. In art you may discover something you’ve never thought of before.

PITC: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

JM: We look forward to a long-lasting relationship with PEN Center USA. Hopefully, by working together, we’re able to provide inspiration to the local community and to young writers for years to come.