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Breakout: Voices From the Inside

PEN is proud to present Breakout: Voices from the Inside, our annual celebration of PEN America’s Prison Writing Program.

Featuring award-winning prose and poetry from the 2015 PEN Prison Writing Contest, read by Khalil Cumberbatch, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Siri Hustvedt, Mitchell S. Jackson, Dawn Lundy MartinSarah Shourd, Jeffrey Toobin, John Wray, and Sunil Yapa.

Tickets available here 

For more information on the PEN Prison Writing Program, click here

Khalil A. Cumberbatch is a formerly incarcerated advocate for social justice movements. Khalil graduated from CUNY Herbert Lehman College’s MSW program in May 2014 where he was awarded the Urban Justice Award for his work with underserved and marginalized communities that are negatively impacted by mass incarceration. Khalil currently serves as Manager of Trainings at JustLeadershipUSA, a national non-profit dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by year 2030.


Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and photographer. Griffiths is the author of Miracle Arrhythmia (Willow Books 2010) and The Requited Distance (The Sheep Meadow Press 2011). Griffiths’ third collection of poetry, Mule & Pear (New Issues Poetry & Prose 2011), was selected for the 2012 Inaugural Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her most recent full-length poetry collection is Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books), was published in 2015.


Siri Hustvedt is the internationally acclaimed author of six novels: The Sorrows of an American, What I Loved, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, The Blindfold, The Summer Without Men, and The Blazing World, as well as a growing body of nonfiction. Her most recent novel The Blazing World was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Los Angeles Book Prize for Fiction in 2014.



Mitchell S. Jackson published the e-book Oversoul: Stories and Essays in the summer of 2012 to critical acclaim. His novel The Residue Years was released in the summer of 2013 and won The Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. It was also a finalist for the Center For Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First novel prize, the PEN/ Hemingway award for first fiction, and The Hurston / Wright Legacy Award for best fiction by a writer of African descent.


Dawn Lundy Martin is a poet and activist. Her poetry collections include Discipline (2011), chosen by Fanny Howe for the Nightboat Books Prize, and A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering (2007), which was selected for the Cave Canem Poetry Prize by Carl Phillips and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. With Vivien Labaton, Martin coedited The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism (2004).


Sarah Shourd is a journalist, playwright and UC Berkeley Visiting Scholar based in Oakland, CA. Shourd travels the US as a public speaker and prisoner rights advocate and has also written extensively on criminal justice issues. Her works include The Box, which premieres in July; A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran (2011); Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement (2016), and articles in the Daily Beast, The New York Times, and more.


Jeffrey Toobin is the bestselling author of The Nine, Too Close to Call, A Vast Conspiracy, and The Run of His Life. He is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the senior legal analyst at CNN.




John Wray is the author of The Lost Time Accidents, Lowboy, Canaan’s Tongue, and The Right Hand of Sleep. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and a Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin, he was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007.



Sunil Yapa is the recipient of the 2010 Asian American Short Story Award, sponsored by Hyphen Magazine and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York. He is the recipient of the 2010 Asian American Short Story Award, sponsored by Hyphen Magazine and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York. Sunil Yapa’s debut novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist was published in 2016.

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