(New York, NY)—Beginning this month, local reading events across the northeast will feature the work of a currently incarcerated writer, shining a spotlight on the immense literary talent that exists within the nation’s prisons. BREAK OUT: a movement to (re)integrate incarcerated writers into the literary community is a new project of PEN America and The Poetry Project. Marking the 48th anniversary of the landmark Attica Prison Riots, BREAK OUT will bring readings of works by currently imprisoned writers to more than two dozen public reading events in New York and elsewhere in the country. This first-of-its kind initiative is part of an effort to reintegrate exiled voices into the broader literary world and serves as a precursor to the annual 2019 PEN America Prison Writing Awards September 18.

“BREAK OUT is designed to bring the often isolated work of incarcerated writers out into the open,” said Caits Meissner, director of PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program. “Writers serving time in prison are often thought of as merely ‘prison writers.’ This series of readings brings their work into the mainstream, bucking the notion that these women and men are something other than just incredibly talented poets, essayists, novelists, and artists. We want to move them out of the silo and into the larger literary community, where they rightly belong.”

The event series launches August 27 in Pittsburgh, PA, and then continues with a series of events in and around New York City. Works of imprisoned writers will be read aloud at established public reading events including Franklin Electric, the Brooklyn Poetry Slam at BRIC, the New York Writers Coalition’s Writing Aloud, and CRUSH readings series, among others. Recordings of their writers will be employed, and at other readings, local readers and partners will read the works out loud.

“Elevating the voices of imprisoned writers has never been more critical,” said Kyle Dacuyan of The Poetry Project. “Public consciousness of the incarceration crisis in America has reached a new apex. Allowing the words of these talented writers to leave prison and be exposed to new audiences is key in inspiring larger social change. Everyone should come hear these readings, understand the immense talent that exists on the other side of these walls, and celebrate the contributions incarcerated writers have made to literature.”

The event series is part of PEN America’s month of activity around its work with incarcerated writers. Online, PEN.org will feature the writings of 34 incarcerated writers who are recipients of PEN America’s annual prison writing contest. Their work will also be featured in a printed anthology, As I Hear the Rain, to be released as part of this series. The celebration culminates on September 18 with the PEN America Prison Writing Awards at the Brooklyn Book Festival. This dynamic free-to-the-public program features writers and artists Margo Jefferson, Cortney Lamar Charlston, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, T Kira Madden, Shaun Leonardo, Cecilia Gentili, and many others.

For nearly half a century, PEN America and its members have supported incarcerated writers through mentorship programs with established writers, as well as providing resources and guidance on creative writing for people who are serving time in prison. The program supports free expression, and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power. 

Participating BREAK OUT venues include:

  • Words Without Wall @ City Of Asylum, Pittsburgh, PA
  • First Tuesdays @ Espresso 77, Queens, NY
  • First Draft @ Urban Word, New York, NY
  • Lair’s League NYC @ KGB Bar, New York, NY
  • The Rally Reading Series @ Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn, NY
  • Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series @ KGB Bar, New York, NY
  • Poetry/Cabaret @ The Green Room 42, New York, NY
  • Eclipsed Reading Series @ Cantina Cumbancha, Brooklyn, NY
  • New York Writers Coalition’s Writing Aloud @ City Island Library, Bronx, NY
  • Same Page Reading Series @ KBG Bar, New York, NY
  • An Angry Reading Series @ Grill On The Hill, New York, NY
  • Women Writers In Bloom Poetry Salon, private event, Brooklyn, NY
  • CRUSH Reading Series @ Woodbine, Ridgewood, NY
  • Dead Rabbits Reading Series @ DTUT, New York, NY
  • Ditmas Lit @ Hinterlands Bar, Brooklyn, NY
  • Lyrics, Lit & Liquor @ 2A Bar, New York, NY
  • The Difficult To Name Reading Series @ Stories Books & Cafe, Los Angeles, CA
  • Big Words, Etc. @ 61 Local, Brooklyn, NY
  • Brooklyn Poetry Slam @ Bric House Stoop, Brooklyn, NY
  • Enclave Reading Series @ Club Cumming, New York, NY
  • Segue Reading Series @ Zinc Bar, New York, NY
  • Greetings From Queer Mountain @ Housing Works Bookstore, New York, NY
  • Franklin Electric @ Work Heights, Brooklyn, NY
  • Beyond Baroque Arts Center, Los Angeles, CA

Click here for more details about each event.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. 

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892