Oral Histories

Interview of Judith Tannenbaum

Writer and teacher for the Arts-in-Corrections program, developer of Manual For Artists Working in Prison, and editor of Memo Arts.
Arts in Corrections: Interviews with Participants in California Department of Corrections' Institutional Arts Program
UCLA and University of California History
Community History
UCLA History: Events and Projects
Biographical Note:
Writer and teacher for the Arts-in-Corrections program, developer of Manual For Artists Working in Prison, and editor of Memo Arts.
Aoki, Kyoko
Tannenbaum, Judith
Persons Present:
Tannenbaum and Aoki.
Place Conducted:
Tannenbaum's home in El Cerrito, California
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Kyoko Aoki; MLIS, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Tannenbaum was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content. The corrections made were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.Interviewees were identified through the Arts-in-Corrections archival records, introductions by individuals at the William James Association and the Poetic Justice Project, and through snowball sampling where existing narrators recruited or recommended other narrators for inclusion in the project. Dr. Larry Brewster, dean of the College of Professional Studies at the University of San Francisco, and Dr. Ben Harbert, assistant professor of music at Georgetown University, who have conducted independent research related to Arts-in-Corrections, also provided introductions and contact information for potential interviewees.UCLA’s Office of the Human Research Protection Program has approved this oral history project through its Institutional Review Board. Interviewees were selected and approached according to guidelines set forth in the IRB application. No artists who are still incarcerated, or anyone under parole supervision or probation were contacted for this project.
1.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series Arts in Corrections: Interviews with Participants in California Department of Corrections' Institutional Arts Program document the stories of formerly incarcerated artists, professional artists, and administrators who participated in the Arts-in-Corrections program. Arts-in-Corrections was a California Department of Corrections program that placed professional artists in correctional institutions across the state to provide incarcerated men and women instruction in a variety of artistic media, including the visual arts, theater, musical performance, creative writing, and poetry. The program spanned three decades from 1979 to 2010. The oral history interviews were conducted as part of the interviewer's master's thesis research and then donated to the Center for Oral History Research. Archival materials related to the Arts-in-Corrections program are available at the UCLA University Archives and the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.
Born in Chicago--Family moves to Los Angeles—Grows up in a large extended Jewish family--Begins writing and teaching poetry--Discovers Poets in Schools program—First asked to teach poetry in prisons in 1985—Exposure to the arts as a child—Spends a year in Italy when she is eleven—Experience of writing short stories as a child--Family's politics—Comes of age during the Civil Rights movement-- Attends University of California, Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement—Demographics of schools in Los Angeles during her growing-up years predominantly white and Jewish—Living in a society with an increasing amount of diversity—Lives on “no money” in Mendocino with family—Volunteering and teaching writing in her daughter’s classes— Gets certified to teach with Poets in the Schools—Returns to school to get a master’s in English—Teaches literature through Santa Rosa Junior College extension--Teaches hippies, back-to-the-landers, and old-timers and begins to learn how to facilitate a space where people with different points of view can share and respect each other—Moves back to the Bay Area and teaches students from a variety of backgrounds who speak many different languages--Invited to give a poetry performance at a prison in Tehachapi— Impressions of first day sharing poetry in prison—Finds out about Arts in Corrections (AIC) program--Begins performing and teaching poetry at Vacaville--Discovers AIC program at San Quentin—Describes the California Arts Council residency program that places artists in schools, hospitals, and social institutions—Teaching at San Quentin—Brings guest artists from the Bay Area and builds communities in teaching environments—Uses internal TV station to broaden access to poetry resources to men beyond those who are in classes—Describes AIC structure and how men learn about and sign up for classes—Class structure, teaching methods, and pedagogy—Abilities of students and relationship with students—Difficulties posed by teaching art in prison—Prison environment and protocols, relationship with prison administration and staff—The larger AIC community in San Quentin and across the state--Arts Council and AIC conferences—Asked by Bill Cleveland to develop an AIC manual in the form of a novella--Interviews people in many different positions about AIC—Edits AIC quarterly newsletter, Memo Arts—Leaves AIC/San Quentin as third-year gant runs out, prison system is restructured, and students are transferred—Begins teaching at a continuation school and an elementary school in Albany—Teaches primary school teachers--Receives a grant to write a guide for teachers and gets the book published— Writes a book Disguised as a Poem about experiences at AIC—Works for WritersCorps in San Francisco—Reflections on experience teaching in and out of prison—Current arts programming at San Quentin and arts in and after prison— Women’s prison programs.