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The Sentences That Create Us
Crafting A Writer’s Life in Prison

The Sentences That Create Us provides a roadmap for incarcerated people and their allies to have a thriving writing life behind bars—and through walls—drawing on the unique insights of over 50 justice-involved contributors and their allies to offer advice, inspiration and resources.

The Sentences That Create Us draws from  the unique insights of over fifty justice-involved contributors and their allies to offer inspiration and resources for creating a literary life in prison. Centering in the philosophy that writers in prison can be as vibrant and capable as writers on the outside, and have much to offer readers everywhere,  The Sentences That Create Us aims to propel writers in prison to launch their work into the world beyond the walls, while also embracing and supporting the creative community within the walls.

The Sentences That Create Us is a comprehensive resource writers can grow with, beginning with the foundations of creative writing. A roster of impressive contributors including Reginald Dwayne Betts (Felon: Poems), Mitchell S. Jackson (Survival Math), Wilbert Rideau (In the Place of Justice) and Piper Kerman (Orange is the New Black), among many others, address working within and around the severe institutional, emotional, psychological and physical limitations of writing prison through compelling first-person narratives. The book’s authors offer pragmatic advice on editing techniques, pathways to publication, writing routines, launching incarcerated-run prison publications and writing groups, lesson plans from prison educators and next-step resources.

Threaded throughout the book is the running theme of addressing lived trauma in writing, and writing’s capacity to support an authentic healing journey centered in accountability and restoration. While written towards people in the justice system, this book can serve anyone seeking hard won lessons and inspiration for their own creative—and human—journey. 

Reviews
  • "This is one of the best books on writing that I've ever read. I couldn't put it down. There are millions of stories locked behind bars, along with the millions of people our nation has caged. This astonishing book has the power to set those stories free. And I believe the truths contained in those stories just might free us all."
    —Michelle Alexander, author, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

    “When I was inside, I had no access to this manual. It didn’t exist. And so, I scraped along the best way I could. I talked to friends who plotted out novels by riffing on rap albums. I talked to friends who’d written hundreds of pages, by hand, fantasy novels that only they and I and those walking the yard would read. And we were all writers. But had we had this book—we would have been better writers.”
    —Reginald Dwayne Betts, from the foreword

    “Having taught college-level English courses in prison for more than a decade, I am thrilled for a volume like this one: chock full of prose that is not only beautiful, inspirational and wise, but hugely helpful in a pedagogical sense—a perfect addition to all syllabi that involve writing in the carceral space.”
    —Baz Dreisinger, Executive Director, Incarceration Nations Network

Other books by PEN America

  • The Sentences That Create Us

    The Sentences That Create Us provides a road map for incarcerated people and their allies to have a thriving writing life behind bars—and shared beyond the walls—that draws on the unique insights of more than fifty contributors, most themselves justice-involved, to offer advice, inspiration and resources.