As I mentioned last week, the Prison Writing Program is having its first-ever benefit reading this Monday at 8 pm at the Parsons School of Design on 5th Ave. between 11th & 12th Streets in Manhattan. There's been a slight change: Colum McCann cannot make it, so Francine Prose will be reading in his place, along with Breyten Breytenbach, Suheir Hammad, Susan Kuklin, Wesley Stace, and other special guests.
You can purchase tickets at www.pen.org/pwpgala, and you can RSVP on Facebook.
Since 1971, PEN's Prison Writing Program has sponsored an annual writing contest, published free handbooks for prisoners, provided one-on-one mentoring to inmates whose writing shows merit or promise, conducted workshops for former inmates, and sought to get inmates' work to the public through literary publications and readings.
By the way, two terrific pieces (one story and one poem) from the 2008 PEN Prison Writing Contest can be read in PEN America 9: Checkpoints.
Friday update: The poem published in Checkpoints will be read on Monday evening, and is now online here; I've also pasted it below. The author is Joe Rickey Knight, who is currently incarcerated at the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
An Escape Artist
At eight, I was a magician
able to slip from any confinement.
After my stepfather beat me
and imprisoned me in my bedroom,
I decided to disappear,
sneaking into the passageway
between the left brain and the right,
dropping through a trap door
and sliding down a chute
to the bottom of the cortex
where I searched a maze of memories
for a safe place to hide
and ended up at grandpa’s farm
where we flew kites all afternoon
on a hill behind the house.
And now, thirty-nine years later,
I slip out of my cell
here at the Kentucky State Pen
each time I write a poem.
Last week, I slipped out a window,
climbed down a rope, eluding guards,
then scaled the perimeter wall.
I wandered along the Cumberland riverbank,
happened upon an abandoned boat
and rode the currents to the Ohio,
Mississippi, and the Gulf, where I watched
a man hanging from a bright red canopy
above the rocking waters
parasail into the sky.