Santa Catalina School '94
Amherst College '98 Summa Cum Laude
Francesca Preston defined herself as a writer and an artist at SCDS. “My work has always had to do with words, and the way that words relate to images,” she said. “Ever since I was a kid, people have come to me for help with their writing, basically to spend time with their words. Words are physical objects for me. Over the years, I’ve acquired a real sensitivity as a writer as well as an editor, and am able to hear the music of words in my writing as well as in the writing of others.”
Francesca arrived at SCDS as a second grader the year we opened. She stayed at the school through her graduation in 1990, and remembers how close she felt to her classmates and to two SCDS teachers in particular—English teacher Susan Hirsch and art teacher Greer Upton.
“I remember a card that Ms. Hirsch gave me at my graduation. She wrote, ‘As a class, we’ve been able to be together in a quiet, intimate way. Now it will be different. Your relationship to other people will depend on what you choose to show of yourself to the world.’ That note said a lot about my experience at SCDS.
“The core of my class didn’t change much from second to eighth grade, and we learned how to communicate in the way that a family does. We understood each others’ personalities and idiosyncrasies without needing to talk about them. So, even though I was often a quiet, contemplative student, my class recognized I was a writer and artist without my needing to tell them.”
Francesca’s educational choices reinforced her sensibilities as a writer and artist. “I chose Santa Catalina School, a Catholic boarding school that offered wonderful literature programs, for high school. I then went to Amherst College in Massachusetts, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation. I chose it, in part, because there were no requirements, and I could select the classes I wanted. I took primarily literature, poetry, and studio art courses. It was an extremely intense educational experience, but I began to feel I was a poet during that time.”
Her most vivid memories of SCDS are of being in the art room. “Greer saw us as true artists, not children making art. We had an assignment in which she taught us the word homage, where we would look through all the books of artwork by famous artists, and choose a piece we liked, and then make our own interpretation of that artwork. We’d draw, say, the bowl of fruit in a Cezanne painting while trying to imagine how the artist might have felt while drawing it. It was an amazing process because it enabled us to really be with a piece of art for a long time.”
During her twenties, Francesca explored the world, further developing her voice as a writer through her experiences. “I went to Asia, experimented with various ways of living my life. I edited books in India, studied meditation and dance, and learned bits of languages from all the people I encountered.
“I found that the writer and artist in me are nourished by traditions of the old world and I developed new relationships to things done with my hands—to food, land, and traditional craftsmanship—and learned how to make things that are practical as well as beautiful, like bread, paper, and jewelry.
“I am a lifelong Californian, and being in these ancient places made me aware of how much shallower our roots are here, how all of us came from different places not so long ago. But it was these roots that ultimately drew me back to the U.S., to live with my grandmother in the Sierra foothill ghost town where her grandparents settled, and to gather her stories while she was still alive.
“As a writer, my path has been to truly figure out the subjects of my writing—to whom and what I’m paying tribute—and I’ve learned that I’m drawn to write about what might be considered ordinary: being with my family, the way plants grow, everyday objects, words themselves, and how we are in relationship to them.”