For more than five decades, PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing program has amplified the work of thousands of writers who are creating while incarcerated in the United States. By providing resources, mentorship, and audiences outside the walls, we help these writers to join and enrich the broader literary community. Committed to the freedom to write in U.S. prisons as a critical free expression issue of our time, we leverage the transformative possibilities of writing to raise public consciousness about the societal implications of mass incarceration and support the development of justice-involved literary talent.
We achieve this through the following initiatives:
The Sentences That Create Us
PEN America’s new book, The Sentences That Create Us: Crafting A Writer’s Life in Prison (Haymarket Books) provides a road map for incarcerated people and their allies to have a thriving writing life behind bars—and shared beyond the walls—that draws on the unique insights of more than fifty contributors, most themselves justice-involved, to offer advice, inspiration and resources.
PEN Prison Writing Contest
For over 30 years, hundreds of imprisoned writers from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to the yearly PEN Prison Writing Contest, one of the longest-running outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.
Prison Writing Mentor Program
PEN America’s Prison Writing Mentor Program consists of more than 300 working writers in relationship with close to 300 incarcerated writers working together toward individualized literary goals and cultivating an engaged literary community through and behind the walls.
Writing for Justice Fellowship
PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship commissions writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate.
Works of Justice Publications and Podcast
Works of Justice is a PEN America Prison and Justice Writing online literary series and podcast that explores the relationship between writing and incarceration, and challenges current conversations about criminal justice in the United States.
Read Award-Winning Works from the PEN Prison Writing Contest
Each year, PEN America produces an incredible collection of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama written by talented writers in prison. Included in each anthology are original groundbreaking illustrations by artists both with and without justice involvement.
Illustration by Maria Lavezzo. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Bob Schutz; INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY, MO798