Junot Diaz on Prison Poetry

You can be sure that most Americans have been affected by the prison system in some way.

The United States prison population rose by 600 percent over just 30 years, and there's an even greater mass of people on probation or parole. Yet, that's not something we talk much about, so when an individual or group decides to speak out, it's big. Pulitzer Prize winner and novelist Junot Diaz did so when he spoke up for prison literature, and why we should never ignore it.

Prisoner voices are vital. It's why we launched the Prison Poetry Workshop, and why Diaz  recorded a video at San Quentin State Prison in California in 2011. He was there to visit "Brothers in Pen" ---  a "long-standing writers' workshop and creative writing class" run by Zoe Mullery of the Prison Arts Project. After talking with prisoners about the origins of the Superman narrative and giving them some advice on "titrating" the language in their work, the author and Macarthur genius sat down to read aloud the gorgeous foreword he'd written for the Brothers in Pen anthology. It eloquently states why we, as a society, prefer to ignore prison lit. "We fear those voices because of what they will tell us about our nation and because of what they will tell us about ourselves," Diaz reads. The reading begins at 7:52.

Learn more about prison poetry in California by listening to our one-hour special.

Posted on February 17, 2014