Novelist and professor at Diablo Valley College to retire after 30 years


Catherine Stites

Professor Jessica Parksdale, in her office on April 17, 2018. Parksdale will be retiring from DVC after the Spring semester of 2020.

Catherine Stites, Assistant editor

Ending her learning journey where it began, professor Jessica Barksdale will be retiring as a professor of English at Diablo Valley College after 30 years of teaching in the spring of 2020.

Barksdale started her higher education journey as a student at DVC, and came back 10 years later to teach English to students in the same position she was in 10 years previous.

Times have changed since Barksdale first walked onto campus as a student, a time when classes were free.

Her and her friends had previously looked down upon the institution, calling it a “rock or prison” due to the affluent community in which she was raised in.

“The few classes I managed to pass while I was here guided me when I finally went back a couple years later,” said Barksdale.

A transfer day deviated her path when she ran into a representative for Cal State Stanislaus, she had just dropped all her classes but the college rep suggested she still apply.

She got in, after an interview.

A miracle happened and a surprise letter from a  high school counselor she did not remember who wrote highly of her, closing the deal on her acceptance.

Ten years later, she got a job as an adjunct professor at DVC and is now the current longest standing faculty of the English department.

Being an English professor means teaching more than literature; it involves creative writing, poetry writing and imparting her own wisdom of writing long fiction to her students.

Barksdale has not only accomplished publishing over a dozen books, with plans to get a collection of poems and short stories published soon, but has also inspired her colleagues to make strides in new sects of literature.

English professor Alan Haslam has taken one of Barksdale’s online poetry classes, and he said she taught him “how to get started, to find ideas and begin turning them into poems.”

The legacy of Barksdale will remain here after she has retired due partly to her creation, Literature Week. The week has now been taken over by professor Rayshell Clapper.

“She brings much talent and experience to any conversation about literature and creative writing,” said Clapper.

After her terrible performance in school, Barksdale didn’t think that she was “an adequate human being” for such a role such as teaching but she always knew that she wanted to be a writer.

The death of Barksdale’s sister sparked her to write her first novel, which came out in 2001.

Her very first book was born in a writing class at the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference in a class with Cristina Garcia, where she wrote the first scene.

Urged by the writing prompt about two characters hiding something from each other, she just kept writing and couldn’t stop she recalls.

She took the scene to her writing group where she was told it was novel material.

Being new in the book writing scene, Barksdale didn’t know or understand how to write chapters.

Even now when asked by students she says, “I’ve decided (a chapter is) 12 pages just because it will calm them down,” when they ask how long a chapter should be, but in reality “you can vary.”

She not only teaches in-person classes, like her favorite class, English 118, but also teaches online classes like creative writing and poetry writing.

She does not have a preference for online or physical classes. She said that students who are quiet can’t be in regard to online classes, and there is  “something really great about meeting humans” in regard of physical classes.

Other professors have learned from Barksdale as well like Haslam who said she taught him “how to make sure the classroom elements of writing workshops are translated well online.

She is not only well rounded in what she teaches, but she writes around in different genres of fiction.

Romance,  young adult, historical fiction and contemporary are some of the genres that she has written in, and each one has taught her something valuable.

She said that romance taught her plot; the story is usually boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get together but where each of those pieces happens is crucial to the success of the storyline.

Barksdale always knew she wanted to be a writer, but the teaching part came to her during her time in school.

She discovered that she liked watching herself and others “figure stuff out” and how rewarding that was.

As an English professor, Barksdale actually does not have a favorite book but said, “A certain book can be the right thing at the exact right moment, and that is the thing to value. ”

Barksdale is planning on joining DVC for its study abroad program in Florence during the spring of 2019 and continues to write because of “daily absurdities of the world.”

“What stands out about her work at DVC is that she has truly been tireless in her promotion and advocacy of literature,” said Haslam.