Prison Writing

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative power of writing and provides hundreds of imprisoned writers across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for these writers to express themselves freely and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power.

Handbook for Writers in Prison

PEN’s Handbook for Writers in Prison features detailed guides on the art of writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays—an invaluable resource for any writer. Each year, thousands of free copies of the Handbook for Writers in Prison are sent to incarcerated men and women who request a copy. You may also request or purchase one on behalf of an incarcerated person.

Request a copy »

Annual Prison Writing Contest

Every year hundreds of imprisoned writers from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population. Manuscripts come to us in a variety of forms: some are handwritten, some are typed, some are written in the margins of legal documents.

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Mentorship Program

Consisting of more than seventy mentors working with close to one hundred incarcerated writers, PEN America Mentorships continues to be the most interactive and engaging project in the Prison Writing Program.

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The Prison Writing Contest Prizes are sponsored by the generous support of the Greenburger Center for Social & Criminal Justice.

Programming for PEN America’s Prison Writing Program is made possible in part by generous funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

 

Read Award-Winning Works from the PEN Prison Writing Contest

The High Desert Sessions

Time rather than education is the great leveler, Li. Eventually you’ll come around to my way of thinking, everyone will. You are definitely on the wrong side of history,… More

Midnight at the Manatee

Thirty-nine inches from tip to tip, / it must have weighed, I bet, almost forty pounds. / You teased me as we passed another angler, offering / to… More

LP’s and Girlz

Oh, SHE was All Too Real my friendz and beloved readerz because I tell you she literally bumped elbows with me as we both hunted for those heavenly 12-inch… More

Tom & Gerry

TOM: (reminiscing) River Lethe, baby. The dreariest task was a silent epiphany. Slooow motion. Even something like laundry had a purpose and a passion—as part of the plan. It… More

The Meridian

It’s obvious she’s wrong. When the men reach them, the men will kill them both, who cares if they’re supposed to be able to. They’ve killed others. The Man… More

Little Sunshine

BETH: Dad storming around the house, demanding to know who let chickens into the house. (Mimicking her father as she takes the shaker from her mother) Chickens are food,… More

Crabtree

Crabtree shakes his hand at the two boys. Sound, dreadful, repeated thunk of two dead rabbits striking the window as they dangle from Crabtree’s hand. More

Somewhere Between

A lone figure on the yard: an Orderly pushing a sheet-covered body on a gurney. The gurney hits a bump on the sidewalk. An arm pops out from beneath… More

The Stew of Discontent

Part of the perennial problem with the Texas prison system stems from an inherent comprehension deficit. To use an idea of Alexander Solzhenitsynts, it seems we’ve lost capacity for… More

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