Many come to New York City with big dreams of changing the world and achieving greatness. In the case of Liza Jessie Peterson, the dream was becoming a supermodel. Although Liza did not quite reach supermodel status, she did achieve some success, traveling the world and walking the runway for some of the fashion industry’s top designers.
But the allure of the runway soon faded, and Liza found herself searching not only for her identity, but something greater. Liza’s search landed her in acting classes and soon after in several independent feature film roles. Liza then began cultivating her poetic talents, eventually performing on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and PBS’s In Between the Lions. Liza’s poems developed into monologues, which then became a one-woman show.
Looking for greater financial stability than her poetic ventures offered, Liza decided to shift her career to teaching, and this is where her debut book, All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island, begins. All Day documents Liza’s first year as a teaching artist, where she brought creative writing and poetry workshops to New York City’s incarcerated youth.
Liza says her book aims to shed light on the “draconian subworld where so many of our children languish” and attempts to help readers “understand the plight of young adolescent boys behind bars and feel, as I do, that they are worth our love and attention.”
It’s been eighteen years since Liza stepped through the doors of Rikers Island, an experience she describes as “passion meeting purpose.”
Liza Jessie Peterson came to New York with a dream of strutting to the tune of world-wide recognition, but ended up doing so much more…she did something life-changing; as a NYC Board of Education full-time GED teacher, she helps alter the trajectory of lives, lives commonly viewed as valueless and burdensome. One could say Liza surpassed her initial big city dream; she became a model, actress, poet, playwright, and, finally, a teacher who continues to help change the world with each workday, truly proving the greatest accomplishment of all is being of service to others.
All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island may be purchased here.