Beyond Bars Reading Brings to Light Writing from American Prisons

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration on earth, with 2.3 million people imprisoned in 2013—one in every 100 adults. Yet in spite of the prevalence of imprisonment in our country, many Americans see prison inmates as very separate, an Other they find easy to vilify or at the very least forget about and ignore. On Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 7 PM at Minneapolis Central Library, writers who teach creative writing in prisons will share some of their students’ work at Beyond Bars: Voices of Incarceration, a free, public reading offering a rare chance to see past stereotypes into the hearts and minds of imprisoned writers. The Beyond Bars reading is one of a dizzying array of readings and other programs taking place in Minneapolis April 8-11 as part of AWP, the annual gathering of writers and creative writing teachers sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The AWP conference is happening in Minnesota for the first time ever this year. According to event co-organizer Peter Pearson, the Beyond Bars reading will feature student work from the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop; Hennepin County Library Outreach Services; the Women’s Writing Project in Ramsey County, the North Carolina-based program Revised Sentences; Literature on Lockdown, a regular feature from The Missouri Review literary journal, and Words Without Walls, a program based at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Other participants may be added closer to the event. Readers will include Patrick Jones, a librarian with Hennepin County, Sarah Shotland with Words Without Walls, Cody Leutgens of Revised Sentences, and Diego Vazquez, Jr. with the Women’s Writing Project. Jennifer Bowen Hicks, the founder of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, will also read, along with writers Kate Shuknecht and Mike Alberti. It was an encounter at another AWP conference years ago that planted the seed for Bowen Hicks to start the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. Continue Reading