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Prison Is Not a Genre

Reaching beyond the often-discussed value and how-to of writing programs in prisons, this PEN America panel seeks to challenge personal motivations, institutional practices, and the use of rhetorical language that can inadvertently perpetuate a culture of stigma and separation. Panelists representing a range of lived, creative, organizational, and policy perspectives will discuss how to collaborate more ethically, equitably, and inventively with work coming out of the prison environment.


Caits Meissner is the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York, and currently serves as the Prison and Justice Writing Program Director at PEN America.


Tongo Eisen-Martin Bio PhotoTongo Eisen-Martin is the author of “Someone’s Dead Already” and “Heaven Is All Goodbyes” which was published by the City Lights Pocket Poets series, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and won a California Book Award and an American Book Award. He has taught in several detention centers spanning New York, California, Florida, Wisconsin, and Mississippi.

Louis J. Rodriguez Photo

Credit: Arlene Mejorado

Luis J. Rodriguez is the Los Angeles Poet Laureate (2014-2016) and author of eight books of poetry. Mr. Rodriguez is best known for his memoirs for Simon & Schuster/Touchstone Books, including Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing as well as short stories, a novel, nonfiction, and children’s literature. He has taught for over 35 years, is founding editor of Tia Chucha Press, and co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore.

Alice Lundell is the Director of Communication at the Oregon Justice Resource Center. An experienced journalist and marketing and communications professional, she has been channeling her commitment to social justice and poverty alleviation into helping nonprofits better communicate their message since her arrival in Oregon.

Jeanie Thompson directs the Alabama Writers’ Forum and is poetry faculty at Spalding University low-res MFA Writing Program. Her five poetry collections include The Seasons Bear Us and The Myth of Water: Poems From the Life of Helen Keller. She was founding editor of Black Warrior Review at the University of Alabama.


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