cover image The Sentences That Create Us: Crafting a Writer’s Life in Prison

The Sentences That Create Us: Crafting a Writer’s Life in Prison

Edited by Caits Meissner. Haymarket, $24.95 trade paper (339p) ISBN 978-1-64259-580-2

Writing advice and memoir come together in this powerful guide to creating a literary life while imprisoned. “There is no technology more democratic than language,” Reginald Dwayne Betts writes in his foreword; in the sections that follow, contributors share their notes on the craft. The advice on plotting, creating art, structuring poetry, highlighting grammar and punctuation, and getting published is concise and on-point, as are the writing prompts that round things out. What sets this apart from the average guide, though, are the contributors’ backstories, which are woven throughout. For example, Luis J. Rodriguez, who composed the chapter “On Poetry,” “sat on murderers row in the Hall of Justice Jail” in 1970 Los Angeles on possible charges of homicide. Rodriguez “began to write. Thoughts, vignettes, anecdotes,” before being released, and went on to eventually author 16 books. Patrick O’Neil’s tale is equally memorable—he’d been convicted for armed robbery and “confined to a cell for twenty-three hours a day with a serial killer for a cellie.” O’Neil joined a prison writing group and found inspiration in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which paved the way for his memoir. These glimpses of light in conditions of darkness and pain are inspirational; the result is a moving paean to the power of writing. Agent: Anthony Arnove, Roam Agency. (Jan.)