(New York, NY) — The literary and free expression group PEN America today announced the recipients of its 2021-2022 Writing for Justice Fellowship. The fellowship, funded by Agnes Gund’s Art For Justice fund, commissions writers to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate. Named today, the ten fellows—three currently incarcerated—and their mentors will embark on range of projects covering topics such as multigenerational incarceration in the Midwest, prison gerrymandering, restorative justice, sex workers and self-defense laws, COVID-19 responses behind bars, and much more.

“As we ruminate on a painful year, I’m heartened by the ambitious projects our fellows are setting out to accomplish this year,” said Caits Meissner, director of Prison and Justice Writing at  PEN America. “This extraordinary group of writers, poets, journalists, and essayists, matched with leading mentors in their field, seem to have only become more emboldened in their mission to shine light into the hidden pockets of our profoundly  broken justice system. These writers are after change—in hearts, minds and policy—at a time when empathy bolstered by action has never been more crucial, behind the walls and beyond.” 

  • Starr Davis of Columbus, Ohio will work on HUSSLE, a memoir essay collection that examines the implications of growing up as a young Black woman with an incarcerated parent. Mentor: Reginald Dwayne Betts.
  • P.M. Dunne of Naponoch, New York will create a multimedia project that merges poetic verse with dance, emphasizing the need for prison arts programs with merit-based incentives. Mentor: choreographer Sarah Dahnke.
  • Elizabeth Flock of Tujunga, California will write a magazine piece that exposes the criminalization of sex workers who kill in self-defense. Mentor: Rachel Aviv.
  • Caleb Gayle will write a longform essay about how prison gerrymandering manipulates electoral power—increasing the strength of white rural communities. Mentor: Kiese Laymon.
  • Juan Moreno Haines of San Quentin, California, an incarcerated journalist and survivor of COVID-19, will write a longform journalism piece analyzing San Quentin State Prison officials’ lack of adequate response to the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak. Mentor: Bill Keller.
  • Aron Pines of Highland Park, New Jersey will expose the harrowing judicial process for youth offenders sentenced as adults through the completion of his coming-of-age memoir. Mentor: Ryan Gattis.
  • Citlali Pizarro of Washington, D.C. will work on an in-depth journalistic examination of carceral California’s history of forced sterilizations. Mentor: Jordan Smith.
  • Leonard Scovens of Florida City, Florida will round out his book project by writing a series of essays exploring how cultural accountability and forgiveness are critical components of ending mass incarceration. Mentor: Nicole Lewis.
  • Clarice Thomas of Grand Rapids, Michigan will write about her own grandfather and uncle to explore multigenerational incarceration as she completes her book project. Mentor: zakia henderson-brown. 
  • Sarah Wang of New York, New York will work on a series of lyric essays to explore the often contradictory and capricious nature of bearing witness to mass incarceration as a survivor of domestic violence. Mentor: Eula Biss.

For more than four decades, PEN America’s Prison Writing Program has amplified the writing of thousands of imprisoned writers by providing free resources, skilled mentors, and audiences for their writing. In addition to the Writing for Justice Fellowship, the program publishes a handbook for incarcerated writers (with a new edition debuting with Haymarket Books in January 2022), and runs a prison writing contest and mentorship program.