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PEN America Handbook For Writers in Prison


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Provide galleys and excerpts to prison abolitionist groups and prison writing programs across the country; Pitch excerpts, interviews and profiles to editors that cover prison abolition and criminal justice: VICE, Broadly, Truthout, The Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Guardian, The Nation, among others; pitch radio, podcast, and TV outlets; social media campaign of influencers; launch events and panels through PEN's international network.

About the Author

Founded in 1922,PEN Americastands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that comprise the PEN International network. Our membership forms a nationwide community of writers and literary professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America's mission. PEN America advocates for writers under threat worldwide and public policies that bolster freedom of speech; celebrates the literature of eminent and emerging writers through awards, publications, festivals, and public programming; produces original research on pressing threats to free expression; and offers platforms to lift up the work and views of those whose voices have too often gone unheard or been ignored. PEN America's Prison and Justice Writing Program, founded in 1971 in the wake of the Attica riots, advances the transformative possibilities of writing, and has offered many thousands of incarcerated writers free access to literary resources, skilled writing mentors, and audiences for their work. Our program extends PEN America's mission of supporting free expression, and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power.

among others.


“This is one of the best books on writing that I've ever read. I couldn't put it down. There are millions of stories locked behind bars, along with the millions of people our nation has caged. This astonishing book has the power to set those stories free. And I believe the truths contained in those stories just might free us all.”
—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

“When I was inside, I had no access to this manual. It didn’t exist. And so, I scraped along the best way I could. I talked to friends who plotted out novels by riffing on rap albums. I talked to friends who’d written hundreds of pages, by hand, fantasy novels that only they and I and those walking the yard would read. And we were all writers. But had we had this book—we would have been better writers.”
—Reginald Dwayne Betts, from the foreword

“The Sentences That Create Us feels like a cosmic reminder that the most radical, life-giving art is created and received from the inside to the inside(s). This book, unlike any other I've read, takes seriously the beating hearts and curious minds behind the bars of a nation obsessed with punishing the most vulnerable.”
—Kiese Laymon author of Heavy

“A book rich with craft and the vitality of necessity. An essential collection and a gift to the world.”
—Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black

"The Sentences That Create Us offers an illuminating array of tutorials and testimonials, reckonings and brass tacks. But above all, this volume is an homage to the power of writing to deliver each of us from our individual confines into the soaring infinity of our imaginations."
—Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad

“Not only a powerful guidebook for all who are curious about developing a writing practice, this radical collection also demonstrates how people surviving and resisting the prison industrial complex reimagine and rebuild our world. With entries including narratives of writing lives and communities behind bars, definitions of key concepts and terms, and samples and examples across genres (from poetry to journalism and more), this fierce resource equips readers with all the tools to write ourselves into freedom.”
—Erica R. Meiners, co-author of Abolition. Feminism. Now.

“Having taught college-level English courses in prison for more than a decade, I am thrilled for a volume like this one: chock full of prose that is not only beautiful, inspirational and wise, but hugely helpful in a pedagogical sense—a perfect addition to all syllabi that involve writing in the carceral space.”
—Baz Dreisinger, author of Incarceration Nations

“The Sentences That Create Us, PEN America’s new handbook, is both metaphor for the system and means of reinterpreting it. These writers—made on the inside—reveal the many ways that denial of a creative intellectual life on the outside is one of the pillars of our current carceral dependency. Shooting stars on every page, this book is instructional beyond its promise. Through it, we may just learn that we have always had better solutions than bars and walls.”
—Gina Dent, co-author of Abolition. Feminism. Now.

“The Sentences That Create Us is a wonderful immersive guide into the world of writing (and reading) that will explain, reinterpret and transform genres you thought you knew. It is a profound reminder that writing, when nurtured by those denied, has redemptive power not only to examine and interpret our lives, but also to change them.”
—Donna Murch, author of Assata Taught Me

“Take advantage of every word, Caits Meissner tells readers of this powerful anthology. Its authors certainly have. The Sentences That Create Us is a practical tool of the ways currently and formerly incarcerated people and their allies, gifted writers all, seize the written word to do what prison refuses: celebrate the human. Here is a moving, hands-on guide to freedom writing.”
—Dan Berger, author of Captive Nation

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