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Break Out: Celebrating the 2023 PEN Prison Writing Awards

Join PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program for Break Out, a celebratory book launch for Thank the Bloom: 2023 PEN Prison Writing Awards Anthology.

Initiated in response to the 1972 Attica Prison Riots, the PEN Prison Writing Awards recognizes the extraordinary literary talent produced in prisons and carceral facilities across the United States. Each year, hundred of writers submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to one of the longest-running outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population. Read the full list of this year’s winners here.

Break Out is an annual community-centered staging of compelling, cross-genre literary works from the most recent award cycle. A selection of awarded works from Thank the Bloom will be performed by a distinguished cadre of writers, actors, and activists, including Kalyne ColemanSuzanne GardinierJosé A. PérezHugh Ryan, and Mario Finesse Wright.

Break Out 2023 is free and open to the public. ASL interpretation will be provided.



About the presenters

Kalyne Coleman was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. She is a graduate of the Brown University Trinity Rep MFA in Acting Program and the University of Pennsylvania. TV Credits include: Grace, Interview With A Vampire (AMC), So Help Me Todd (CBS), Evil (CBS), and the 2020 ABC Discovers Talent Showcase. Off-Broadway credits include Four, What To Send Up When It Goes Down (BAM), Lorraine Hansberry & Nikki Giovanni, Lessons in Survival (Vineyard Theater); and Leigh, America v. 2.1 The Sad Demise and Eventual Extinction of the American Negro (Barrington Stage). In fall 2023, Kalyne made her Broadway debut in Jaja’s African Hair Braiding by Jocelyn Bioh.

Suzanne Gardinier is the author of 12 books, including Today: 101 Ghazals (Sheep Meadow Press, 2008) and Letter from Palestine. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. She lives in Brooklyn.

José A. Pérez is a poet, actor, and foster-care reform/abolitionist advocate. A native New Yorker, he grew up in Queens as a systems-impacted person in foster homes, group homes, and other juvenile institutions. While incarcerated, Pérez earned an AA from Bard College, a BS from Nyack College through HudsonLink, and capped his academic career with an MPS from the New York Theological Seminary. He has facilitated theater and poetry workshops, including the Harvest Moon Poetry Collective with Beat poet Janine Pommy Vega, and hosted poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Amiri Baraka. As an actor, Pérez recently performed at the Bushwick Starr Theater in Quince (One Whale’s Tale Productions, 2022). He has also been a servant leader as an alternatives-to-violence facilitator, including work with gang-involved youth at the Center for Alternatives Sentencing and Employment Services as a community Benefits Project Supervisor. Currently, Pérez is Project Manager of YouthNPower: Transforming Care for the Children’s Defense Fund.

Hugh Ryan is an historian and author, most recently of The Women’s House of Detention (Bold Type Books, 2022), a history of the prison that dominated Greenwich Village in the 20th century.

Mario Finesse Wright is a Creative Arts Coordinator at The Fortune Society, where he works with people impacted by incarceration. He is an author, poet, and creative director using his voice to create change and uplift underserved communities. He has published two poetry collections—Poetic Freedom: Born a Caged Bird and Poetic Freedom II: A Prisoner’s Dialect—and a children’s book, The Janitor: No Such Thing as a Bad Child. Wright has three children and currently lives in New York City.