Read Harder: A Book Written in Prison

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Holly Genovese

Staff Writer

Holly Genovese is a Ph.D student in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also completing graduate portfolio programs in African and African Diaspora studies, as well as Women's and Gender Studies. Her writing has been published in Teen Vogue, The Washington Post, Electric Literature, The La Review of Books, Literary Hub, Hello Giggles, and many other places.

The 2019 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by the Read Harder Journal

Created by Book Riot, this smartly designed reading log consists of entry pages to record stats, impressions, and reviews of each book you read. Evenly interspersed among these entry pages are 12 challenges inspired by Book Riot’s annual Read Harder initiative, which began in 2015 to encourage readers to pick up passed-over books, try out new genres, and choose titles from a wider range of voices and perspectives. Indulge your inner book nerd and read a book about books, get a new perspective on current events by reading a book written by an immigrant, find a hidden gem by reading a book published by an independent press, and so much more. Each challenge includes an inspiring quotation, an explanation of why the challenge will prove to be rewarding, and five book recommendations that fulfill the challenge.

I write about prison writers, so I might be biased, but I often love prison narratives, be it fiction or memoir. That said, it can be hard to find new or lesser known writers. This is a list of some great collections and anthologies of prison writing that I can help you discover some great new reads.

  1. Wall Tappings, edited by Judith Schleffler

  2. This book, first published in the ’80s, contains writings from well known women prison writers (Angela Davis) to very obscure writers. It’s great and one of the few places women’s writing in particular is highlighted.
  3. Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (Pen America)

  4. The Pen American organization sponsors an annual prison writing contest and this collection features some of the best writing submitted!
  5. Prison Writings in 20th Century America by H. Bruce Franklin

  6. Franklin was one of the first scholars to really take prison writing seriously—and he collected some of it in this book. Broader in scope than Pen’s collection, but featuring both men and women, Franklin’s collection covers a lot of ground and is a good starting place.
  7. Letters to My Younger Self

  8. This book is writing from one course at S.C.I Graterford in Pennsylvania. It is a great book on its own, but is also an example of the great books coming out of prison writing courses constantly. It is definitely work checking in your area for something similar.