Throughout history, prisoners have written about their experiences. A few served a long apprenticeship to reading and writing and getting rejected, and then reading some more and writing some more to discover how to write their stories. I think of Edward Bunker’s five unpublished novels before the sixth was good enough. He’s not the only example, but without any kind of help, learning to write can be a long and arduous process and more so when locked up. During this time of COVID-19, it has been especially hard with the writing classes in prisons being halted. Too bad there isn’t a book to help incarcerated writers in their process. But wait…
When Caits Meissner – Director, Prison and Justice Writing for PEN America – asked me to contribute a chapter about workshopping narratives to The Sentences That Create Us, I immediately said yes. It’s always an honor to be asked to contribute to any anthology, but this was special. The audience for this book is a group of writers who hunger for instruction but can’t easily join a writing program to earn an MFA or take an adult education course at the local college or a workshop from a local writers’ organization or even a community group of writers. They are the incarcerated. This book gives them chapter after chapter of advice, inspiration, and instruction from experts to move them further down the writers’ road they are on. It is targeted to them from writers who know the situation they are in. This is the only book conceived and created specifically for incarcerated writers. Amazing and this monumental effort of bringing together all these contributors and editing and organizing this book and getting it published is all thanks to Caits. If you see her, give her a thumbs up.
To help get these books in the hands of those who need them, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Sentences that Create Us, will be sent to as many prison libraries nationwide as possible, as well as to higher education and creative writing programs working with justice-involved communities. Teachers, do you Need books? You can also order a copy from Haymarket Books. Even if you’re not a prisoner of the state, there is something here you didn’t know before. Get it. Read it.