For the Literary Community
Incarcerated writers are grossly underrepresented in today’s mainstream literature and literary community. Their work is often overlooked and marginalized, despite the fact that our prisons are filled with talented writers making urgent art.
We can expand our community and our literature’s margins by making proactive efforts to include the work of writers who happen to be incarcerated. Please read below for ways that you can help expand the boundaries to include this already silenced population.
We want to share with you some tips for helpful calls for submissions:
- Use a physical mailing address for incarcerated writers. In prison there is no Internet access.
- Waive the submission fees. Incarcerated writers make .25 to .75 cents an hour but pay real world prices for stamps and deodorant. A $3.00 submission fee can require 12 hours of work.
- Waive the SASE requirements. SASEs are not allowed by many prisons. It helps save you work in the notification process if you state that you can only contact writers whose work you’re accepting for publication.
- Request two mailing addresses. Often it helps to have the mailing address of an outside helper. You may also request the email address of an outside resource to help expedite communication.
- Accept handwritten submissions from incarcerated writers. Make this fact clear in your call for submissions. Logistical hurdles to publishing work from prison abound; gaining access to computers is one example.
- Send calls for submissions to organizations that work on behalf of incarcerated writers including issues that aren’t limited to themes of incarceration.
If you are working on a project about incarceration, are you primarily seeking non-incarcerated writers’ participation? A proximity to prison can never fully capture the experience of life in captivity. If you’re not sure where to find talented writers who can illuminate incarceration, we can name many locally and nationally. PEN AMERICA can also help.
Academic Creative Writing Programs
Teach their work: Instructors who teach incarcerated writers’ work find doing so shifts their students’ understanding of captivity, isolation, art. You can find terrific examples of incarcerated writers’ work here.
Integrate incarcerated writers into your low-res program: Packets travel to prison (almost) as easily as they do a brownstone in Brooklyn or a farmhouse in Iowa. If you run a low-residency MFA program and would consider making space for an incarcerated writer in your program, it may be feasible. Their perspective would certainly enrich the program’s participants and staff and you’d make a huge difference in the life of an otherwise isolated writer. Understandably there are residency requirements, but we think there are workarounds. Email us to talk through possibilities.
Prison Arts Instructors
For educators currently teaching creative writing in correctional settings, we've compiled a list of literary magazines that you may want to share with your students who wish to submit their work for publication. And of course, PEN America is an invaluable resource for their Prison Writing Handbook, fellowships, and their annual writing competition.
Below, you can download a spreadsheet of literary journals that accept submissions from incarcerated writers, along with their mailing addresses, submission periods, and other information.
Thanks to Jennifer Manthey for her work compiling this data on behalf of MPWW.