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Authoring Advocacy: Bearing Witness in an Era of Mass Incarceration

Authoring Advocacy: Bearing Witness in an Era of Mass Incarceration

What is the responsibility of writers to confront our era of mass incarceration, and how do we bear witness without assuming voyeuristic or exploitative perspectives? Join us for a reading featuring 2018 PEN America Writing For Justice Fellows Justin Rovillos Monson and Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s The Witness Program writers Roshan Abraham, Christina Olivares, & Sarah Wang. A closing conversation will explore the ethics, challenges and necessity of writing about mass incarceration from a variety of perspectives and lived experiences.

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No one will be turned away for lack of funds. All donations go to AAWW public programs. The Asian American Writers’ Workshop is a national nonprofit dedicated to the belief that Asian American stories deserve to be told.

PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship commissions writers — emerging or established — to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate. The Fellowship aims to harness the power of writers and writing in bearing witness to the societal consequences of mass incarceration by capturing and sharing the stories of incarcerated individuals, their families, communities, and the wider impact of the criminal justice system. This event will also serve as a warm welcome to the new 2019-2020 Writing For Justice Fellow cohort!

The Witness Program is a new program of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop that empowers writers of color to witness and write about mass incarceration. It began in the spring of 2019 and supports four creative writers, as part of our ongoing initiative A World Without Cages. Each participant visits several sites of American incarceration and detention, meets with individuals who are directly affected, and takes part in a pen-pal correspondence with an incarcerated writer. Their creative work will appear on The Margins, our online magazine of culture and ideas.


Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of the newly published collection of poems Felon. He has been a Guggenheim, NEA, and PEN America Writing For Justice Fellow.

Justin Rovillos Monson, a first generation Filipino-American artist, was the winner of the inaugural 2017 Kundiman/Asian American Literary Review/Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Mentorship in poetry. A love poet, he seeks in his writing to catalog the body incarcerated, to misbehave, and, most of all, to conjure a poetics of reaching. He was born and raised outside of Detroit, Michigan, in Oakland County, and is currently serving a sentence in the Michigan Department of Corrections, from which he hopes to be released in 2027. He is a 2018 PEN America Writing For Justice Fellow.

Sarah Wang is a writer in New York. She has written for BOMB, n+1, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Joyland, Catapult, Conjunctions, Stonecutter Journal, semiotext(e)’s Animal Shelter, The Shanghai Literary Review, Performa Magazine, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, and The Last Newspaper at the New Museum, among other publications. She is the winner of a Nelson Algren runner-up prize for fiction and is currently a fellow at the Center for Fiction and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s Witness Program, which bridges conversations about mass incarceration and migrant detention. See more of her writing at wangsarah.com.

Christina Olivares is the author of the full-length No Map of the Earth Includes Stars (2015), winner of the 2014 Marsh Hawk Press Book Prize, and of the chaplet Interrupt (2015), published by Belladonna* Collaborative. Her second full-length book, HIJX, is forthcoming from YesYes Books. Latinx and queer from the Bronx in New York City, Olivares earned an MFA from Brooklyn College in Poetry and a BA from Amherst College in Interdisciplinary Studies (Education). She is the recipient of a 2018 BRIO Award in Nonfiction, a 2015-2016 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency, and two Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grants (2014 and 2010). She was recently a visiting faculty member in the Rutgers-Newark poetry MFA program and works as a high school educator.

Roshan Abraham is a journalist, essayist, and poet whose writing has appeared in VICE, The Verge, Pacific Standard, The Village Voice and more. Roshan reports on city policy, including criminal justice, immigration, and housing. He was a 2018 Open City Fellow at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and is a graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Connie Leung has been incarcerated since the age of 17 at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and is serving a sentence of 30 years to life. She attends Marymount Manhattan College through the Bedford Hills College Program.

This event will be livestreamed on the Asian American Writers’ Facebook page.

NOTE ON ACCESSIBILITY
* The space is wheelchair accessible. No stairs. Direct elevator from ground floor to 6th floor.
* We strongly encourage all participants of the space/event to be scent-free.
If you all have any other specific questions about accessibility, please email Tiffany Le at [email protected] with any questions on reserving priority seating.