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:
1. Use a physical mailing address for incarcerated writers. In prison there is no Internet access. P.O. boxes don’t work either.
2. Waive the submission fees. Incarcerated writers make .25 to .75 cents an hour but pay real world prices for their stamps and deodorant. A $3.00 submission fee can require 12 hours of work.
3. Waive the SASE requirements. SASEs are not allowed by many prisons. It helps save you work in the notification process you state that you can only contact writers whose work you’re accepting for publication.
4. 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.
5. State that though you prefer typed work, you will accept handwritten submissions from incarcerated writers. Logistical hurdles to publishing work from prison abound; gaining access to computers is one example.
6. Include language in your submission guidelines that explicitly welcomes incarcerated writers’ submissions. Send calls for submissions to organizations that work on behalf of incarcerated writers. It’d be especially welcome if journals requested submissions for issues that aren’t limited to themes of incarceration. Imagine inviting incarcerated writers to contribute to your issue on hunger, on fatherhood, on violence, on hope.
If you are working on a project about incarceration, are you primarily seeking non-incarcerated writers to speak about incarceration? A proximity to prison cannot 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. PEN AMERICA can also help.
Instructors who have taught incarcerated writers’ work find doing so shifts their students’ understanding of captivity, isolation, art, and definition of writer.
MPWW also has a classroom set of PEN Prison Writings 2018 anthology, The Named and the Nameless, for instructors to use in their classroom. We’d be delighted to loan it to you. To borrow a classroom set, email us.
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.
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.
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.