Prose and Cons

Essays on Prison Literature in the United States


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About the Book

As the United States’ prison population has exploded over the past 30 years, a rich, provocative and ever-increasing body of literature has emerged, written either by prisoners or by those who have come in close contact with them. Unlike earlier prison writings, contemporary literature moves in directions that are neither uniformly ideological nor uniformly political. It has become increasingly personal, and the obsessive subject is the way identity is shaped, compromised, altered, or obliterated by incarceration.
The 14 essays in this work examine the last 30 years of prison literature from a wide variety of perspectives. The first four essays examine race and ethnicity, the social categories most evident in U.S. prisons. The three essays in the next section explore gender, a prominent subject of prison literature highlighted by the absolute separation of male and female inmates. Section three provides three essays focused on the part ideology plays in prison writings. The four essays in section four consider how aesthetics and language are used, seeking to define the qualities of the literature and to determine some of the reasons it exists.

About the Author(s)

D. Quentin Miller, an associate professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, first became interested in prison literature while teaching writing in Connecticut prisons. He has contributed essays to a number of books including ones about Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and others. His work has been published in several journals including American Literature. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by D. Quentin Miller
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 288
Bibliographic Info: references, index
Copyright Date: 2005
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2146-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vi

Introduction      1

Part I. Race and Ethnicity
1. “On the Outside Looking In”: White Readers of Nonwhite Prison Narratives      15
D. Quentin Miller
2. The Value of a Gambler’s Promise: Self-Imprisonment and Writing Survival in Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing      33
Brian D. Crawford
3. Critical Witnessing in Latina/o and African American Prison Narratives      62
Tiffany Ana Lopez

Part II. Gender
4. “A Scream That Is Not Female and That Is Not Male”: Imprisonment and African-American Gender Identity
in asha bandele’s The Prisoner’s Wife      81

Laura Dawkins
5. Condemned Men: Compulsive Masculinity and the Convict Ethic in the Writing of Edward Bunker      95
Howard Cunnell
6. Imprisoned Mothers and Sisters: Dealing with Loss Through Writing and Solidarity      111
Judith Scheffler

Part III. Ideology
7. “Only Man Is Miserable”: The Evolving View of Imprisonment in Robert Lowell’s Poetry      131
Colin Clarke
8. The Prison Writer as Ideologue: George Jackson and the Attica Rebellion      147
Brian Conniff
9. The Space of the Prison: The Last Bastion of Morality?      174
Scott Bunyan

Part IV. Aesthetics and Language
10. Writing into the Prison-Industrial Complex      203
Juda Bennett
11. The Ambivalence of The Executioner’s Song: Postmodern Captivity from Death Row      217
Jennifer Roscher
12. Prison Slang and the Poetics of Imprisonment      233
Douglas Taylor
13. “All I Have, a Lament and a Boast”: Why Prisoners Write      246
Bell Gale Chevigny

About the Contributors      273
Index      277