Five Questions for Jesaka Long

By Louis Miller

Young Writers Program instructor Jesaka Long has taught at Lighthouse for years, but she's also an award-winning screenplay and memoir writer and a freelance editor and ghostwriter. I caught up with her recently to talk about her writing, her work, and the camps she'll be teaching this summer.  

Q. What is something you are always able to write about? 

A. Family and identity. No matter how hard I try to write about other things, I always come back to family. What defines a family? Who am I in relation to my family? How do we form our chosen families? These are the themes I explore in all my work, from the humorous to the serious, from memoir/essay to screenplays to other fiction. My paternal grandparents raised me, so this interest goes way back. 

Q. Does essay writing help you creatively? How do you incorporate creative elements into your essays? 

A. Essays must be universal and connect with readers, otherwise they are merely vignettes about something that’s happened in your life. It’s a lesson that’s helped me in all my work, including screenplays. Writing essays was my gateway into creative writing and how—through recreating scenes from real life—I first discovered my ear for dialogue. I encourage all of my nonfiction students to incorporate fiction tools like scenes and characters (while keeping it all true) because it can really open up their enjoyment of writing essays. 

Q. What's something that screenplay writing allows you to do as opposed to other forms of creative writing? 

A. Screenplays must be very visual; your reader should be able to picture a movie as they read it. These scripts must also be concise—white space on the page is really important. I love that I must paint pictures with as few words as possible. Every word counts, just as with poetry, and that intense precision is creatively satisfying. I also adore writing dialogue, so to write in a form that’s so dialogue heavy is pure fun. 

Q. What is the greatest lesson you've learned working freelance jobs, while also being able to consistently work at Lighthouse? 

A. This is such a great question and the answer is something I try to teach all the young writers I encounter: meet your deadlines! Every. Single. Time. It’s the key to clients and editors wanting to work with you again. And that can make a big difference in whether or not you can actually pay your rent with your writing.  

Q. Tell us about your upcoming summer camps! 

A. First up, I’m teaching the Lit Fest one-day camp, Your Novel’s World for Grades 6-8, where writers will build their toolboxes with really fun ways to create settings ranging from the fantastical to the dystopian. Then, June 25-29, I’ll lead Mastering the Short Screenplay for Grades 9-12. Students will learn the elements of short scripts, then write and revise their own screenplays. I’m especially looking forward to table reads at this camp. This is where each student will get to hear their scripts read before finalizing them, which is a tool professional screenwriters swear by. In August, I’m teaching Harry Potter-Inspired Novel Writing for Grades 6-8 where we’ll use the first book in the series to explore how J.K. Rowling creates such great characters and plots—and then write our own novels.  

Louis Miller is Lighthouse's spring Bringing Back the Arts intern.