Variations on an Undisclosed Location: 2022 Prison Writing Awards Anthology

This anthology represents the indispensable archive of the creativity and intellect of incarcerated writers. It also exists simultaneously as a vehicle of connection with the world and other incarcerated writers across the country. In a day and age of digitization and short attention spans, the physical presence of this book serves to confront the reader with the human writers who have contributed their stories and hearts to the work within. Several poignant themes are masterfully represented in this work, ranging from the criminalization of homelessness to meta analysis of what it takes to win writing contests from behind the walls. Writers weave a tapestry from diverse backgrounds, identities, and locales across poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama to portray the most vivid portrayal of the unfetishized reality we share. Cover art by Russell Craig.


Praise for Variations on an Undisclosed Location:

Variations on an Undisclosed Location is a remarkable demonstration of writings giving voice to how people spiral down paths to incarceration, the difficulties experienced within, and the resiliency of those who find voice and purpose through writing about the invisible realities of a prison existence. In this volume we get a glimpse of the psychological tortures of solitary confinement, the criminalization of the homeless, the burden felt by prisoners families and more. We also get to read about the healing found in poetry, the therapy of story telling and the aspirations of plays. Having spent 28 years inside, I can attest to the authenticity of the narratives of struggle and triumph found within this volume and would encourage all to dive into these remarkably well-written pieces with an open heart.

Sterling Cunio, author of Going Forward with Gus and 2018-2019 Writing for Justice Fellow


In this anthology, we read the words of incarcerated people, who are not only physically caged but also sentenced to silence. Kudos to Pen America for prying open cages wide enough for poems and stories to flee. The result is a breath-taking gift, a reminder that in a world obsessed with punishment we deny ourselves the wisdom and healing possible from stories, poems and essays by writers a society has deemed unsalvageable. 

Patrice Gaines, author of Laughing in the Dark: From Colored Girl to Woman of Color–A Journey from Prison to Power


It is difficult for the layperson to fully imagine the complex violence experienced by people our society has cast out and handed over to the criminal legal system, but thanks to anthologies like PEN America’s Variations On An Undisclosed Location, we are given much needed access to the hard-earned wisdoms and true narratives of those we’ve condemned to the darkest corners of our country. This timely anthology is evidence that literary innovation, in response to the specific abuses of contemporary legislation, exists and thrives outside of academia and the mainstream market, producing excellent new and exciting work that has the potential to do more than entertain or inform us via testimony—it could, under the best circumstances, inspire action at the federal level. Variations On An Undisclosed Location is a provocative glimpse into the future of purpose-driven creative writing and a title I’ll be returning to again and again.

Faylita Hicks, author of HoodWitch


What captivated me most about this anthology is the breadth of emotion that these writers bring to the table. So much of the outside understanding of incarceration is based in gray areas while this collection compels the reader to think about the writers’ experiences with clarity and a compassion for the extremity of suffering and survival. VARIATIONS ON AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION is a daring addition to literary work that illuminates the spectrum of carcerality and the humans entangled with it working to tell their stories.

Prince Shakur, author of When They Tell You to Be Good


In this extraordinary collection of some of this nation’s most powerful essayists, poets, playwrights, and thinkers, one finds oneself immediately transported into some of the most horrifying places that this same country could possibly create. And yet, thanks to these most irreverent, audacious, poignant, and incredibly beautiful voices, however, one is also utterly transformed and inspired. Together they stand as testament to all that even the most brutal spaces have been unable to silence, and thus as a stark reminder of all that our country could be if we all simply stood together to demand it.

Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy