Meg Sweeney, Associate Professor of English and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, has authored a new book! Reading Is My Window is about incarcerated women’s reading practices. The book is available from the University of North Carolina Press.
Author Meg Sweeney writes to the Prison Arts Coalition about her book:
Drawing on extensive individual interviews and group discussions with ninety-four women imprisoned in Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, Reading Is My Window explores how women prisoners use the limited reading materials available to them to come to terms with their pasts, negotiate their present challenges, and reach toward different futures. The book offers the first analysis of incarcerated women’s reading practices, and it foregrounds the voices and experiences of African American women, one of the fastest growing yet least acknowledged populations in U.S. prisons.
Reading Is My Window situates contemporary prisoners’ reading practices in relation to the history of reading and education in U.S. penal contexts, explores the material dimensions of women’s reading practices, and analyzes the modes of reading that women adopt when engaging with three highly popular genres (narratives of victimization, African American urban fiction, and self-help and inspirational books). The book also discusses the many kinds of encounters fostered by book discussions in prisons, and it offers detailed portraits of two imprisoned readers, each of which weaves together the woman’s life narrative and her own description of her reading practices.
I’ve always needed to write – to think out loud across the page, agonize over the smallest turn of a phrase, edit the same stanza over and over until I’ve come as close as I can to perfection or abandoned it in favor of some fresher verse. But it wasn’t until my incarceration that I developed the corresponding need to be heard. Whereas before I was content with private journaling, with English as catharsis, now I required an audience, an energy to bounce my ideas off of. At the bottom of the social casserole, I suddenly needed assurance that I was worth something – on paper, at least.
So I met with fellow poets on the yard to share our prose aloud. I sought out prison creative writing programs and worked to start them where none existed. I found publication for my own writing and that of my peers. With the assistance of people like Buzz Alexander, Suzanne Gothard, Eric Gadzinski, Judith Tannenbaum, and others directly or indirectly involved with Michigan’s PCAP, I learned methods not only to refine my own writing, but also to help others improve their own.
Through forums created by prison arts programs (and a few willing publishers), I’ve been able to remain a part of the reality outside these fences by sharing my view from within them, and that connection has enabled – more than any other aspect of this experience – my development into a socially-mindful (I hope) human being.
For 14th Annual Exhibition press release see this post.
Tuesday, March 24 Opening Reception
Join the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) as we celebrate the opening of the 14th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners. Formerly incarcerated artists, and Curators Buzz Alexander, Janie Paul, and Jason Wright, will address visitors to the gallery at 6:15 p.m. Free and open to the public.
5:30 – 8:00 p.m., Duderstadt Center Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI
Wednesday, March 25
Bill Ayers Join us as Bill Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois and Chicago Citizen of the Year, talks about the role of the arts, education, and activism in shaping our collective destinies. Bill Ayers is the author of several books on education and social justice and is the founder of Chicago’s Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society.
7:30 p.m., Rackham Amphitheatre, 915 E. Washington St. Ann Arbor, MI
Thursday, March 26 The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing: Book Release and Celebration
PCAP and the 14th Annual Exhibition of Prisoner Art present an evening in celebration of PCAP’s first ever Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing. Join us with guest editor and prisoner writing advocate and teacher Joseph Bathanti to enjoy selections of the beautiful and unabashed poetry, prose, and fiction of Michigan’s incarcerated writers. We come together on March 26th to celebrate and honor the talent and vison of these hidden voices with readings by recently released writers whose work has been featured.
7:00pm, Anderson Room, Michigan Union, 530 S. State St. Ann Arbor, MI
Friday, March 27 The Art of Social Change
Malaquias Montoya, a Professor at the University of California, Davis and renown Chicano artist, will present his latest exhibit, “Premeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment.” This exhibit was inspired by Malaquias’s longstanding commitment to speaking out on behalf of those who are disadvantaged and oftentimes silenced by society. His art reveals the underlying racial and class injustices that are carried out through state sponsored execution, and his images are purposefully graphic so as to awaken audiences from their anesthetized response to capital punishment. In all of his work Malaquias sees it has his responsibility to comment on the culture of his time and create social change through art.
7:30 p.m., Henderson Room, Michigan League, 911 N. University Ave. Ann Arbor, MI
Saturday, March 28 Youth Speak
Please join us as a group of Detroit youth come together to discuss serious issues of urban living. It will be a facilitated dialogue with these bright young leaders about the challenges they face, and then an open discussion with all in attendance about these same challenges.
2:00 p.m., Room D, Michigan League, 911. N. University Ave. Ann Arbor, MI
Sunday, March 29 Artists Talkback Join us as a panel of formerly incarcerated artists discuss works in this year’s show and the process of creating art behind bars. The event is moderated by U of M’s School of Art and Design Professor, Janie Paul.
3-5 PM Duderstadt Center Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd., Ann Arbor MI
Wednesday, April 1 Tough Choices: A Look at the Complexities of the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board Join us for a conversation about the process by which the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board reach decisions determining whether a prisoner is ready to return to society.
4:00 p.m., Anderson Room A/B, Michigan Union, 530 S. State St. Ann Arbor, MI
Monday, April 6 Invisible Women: The Crisis of Incarcerated Mothers
Silja Talvi, investigative journalist, and author of Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System, and Melissa Radcliff, Executive Director of Our Children’s Place, a residential initiative allowing young children to live with their incarcerated mothers, join us to discuss the intersections of incarceration and motherhood.
7:30pm, Rackham Assembly Hall, 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 Closing Reception
5:30 – 8:00 p.m., Duderstadt Center Gallery, 2281 Bonisteel Blvd., Ann Arbor