I'll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison

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Overview

For several years, Wally Lamb, the author of two of the most beloved novels of our time, has run a writing workshop at the York Correctional Institution, Connecticut's only maximum-security prison for women. Writing, Lamb discovered, was a way for these women to face their fears and failures and begin to imagine better lives. Couldn't Keep It to Myself, a collection of their essays, was published in 2003 to great critical acclaim. With I'll Fly Away, Lamb offers readers a new volume of intimate pieces from the ...

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Overview

For several years, Wally Lamb, the author of two of the most beloved novels of our time, has run a writing workshop at the York Correctional Institution, Connecticut's only maximum-security prison for women. Writing, Lamb discovered, was a way for these women to face their fears and failures and begin to imagine better lives. Couldn't Keep It to Myself, a collection of their essays, was published in 2003 to great critical acclaim. With I'll Fly Away, Lamb offers readers a new volume of intimate pieces from the York workshop. Startling, heartbreaking, and inspiring, these stories are as varied as the individuals who wrote them, but each illuminates an important core truth: that a life can be altered through self-awareness and the power of the written word.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In 1998, Wally Lamb began teaching writing to female convicts at Connecticut's York Correctional Institute. It was not for lack of a résumé; he was already an acclaimed novelist (I Know This Much Is True; She's Come Undone) and had been teaching high school for a quarter century. York was something different. After adjusting to his new constituency, Lamb realized that his students had disarming, often frightening stories to tell. In 2003, he published an anthology of these testimonies, the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award-winning Couldn't Keep It to Myself. This follow-up collection is just as bracing and profound.
Library Journal

Novelist Lamb's (I Know This Much Is True) second collection of writing by the students in his writing workshop at the maximum-security York Correctional Institution in Connecticut, after Couldn't Keep It to Myself(2003), also focuses on the inspiring and raw emotions of women sharing the good and bad memories that shaped them. The 20 women whose work is featured here-18 inmates and two of Lamb's cofacilitators-show that writing is not just a way of capturing their most private thoughts and gripping emotions (e.g., hope, despair, courage), but also a powerful tool to foster hope and healing. They write from the heart in works ranging from poems to essays to short stories; each vignette is more compelling than the one before it. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.
—Susan McClellan

Kirkus Reviews
The second accomplished collection of writings from women incarcerated in Connecticut's York Correctional Institution, edited again by bestselling novelist Lamb (Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, 2003, etc.). One would have thought the first volume, with its probing examinations of lives run amok, would have convinced prison authorities of the value of a writing program in which prisoners focus and take account. But the prison bureaucracy tried to shut it down, writes an incredulous and furious Lamb, and they confiscated the prisoners' material. That particular draconian administration was replaced with a more enlightened group, Lamb reports, one that allowed for the rehabilitative value of writing. These works radiate what Lamb saw as the program's critical mission: to give the women wings "to hover above the confounding maze of their lives, and from that perspective . . . to see the patterns and dead ends of their past, and a way out." Some of the stories are rueful, others bitter, but all bite, even-perhaps especially-when they are gentle. None are self-pitying, but none shy away from speaking directly to the gross cruelties so often inflicted on their early years or young marriages. Each story, no matter how grim or gritty, shows polish, and the women display a wide array of emotions: unbridled anger, innocence, hope, resigned acceptance. While a few of the stories speak of angels who touched the women's lives, most display open wounds that are continuing to be healed by the cathartic power of words. Writing as an act of self-realization and liberation and, not incidentally, an indictment of the penal system.
Booklist
“Lamb . . . continues to offer readers an intimate look at women struggling to maintain their humanity.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061369223
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/18/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and national bestseller The Hour I First Believed and Wishin' and Hopin', a bestselling novella. His first two works of fiction, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both number-one New York Times bestsellers and Oprah's Book Club selections. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.

Biography

The desire to write fiction hit Wally Lamb comparatively late in life. He was in his 30s, living in Connecticut, working as a high school English teacher, and relishing his role as a brand new father, when he began his first story. As he worked his way through several drafts, he was suddenly struck by how little he knew of the writer's craft. Determined to improve his skills, he enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Vermont College.

Lamb blossomed at Vermont, where he learned two important and liberating lessons from his teacher and mentor Gladys Swann: (1.) Never write with a particular audience in mind; write for yourself, and let the audience find you. (2.) There's no such thing as an original story; the writer's job is to recast a familiar tale in his or her own way. Acting on Swann's advice, he immersed himself in mythology and reread the works of Joseph Campbell and Heinrich Zimmer.

In 1992, eight years after completing graduate school, Lamb published his first novel. The story of a tremendously overweight woman who triumphs over a lifetime of misery, pain, and abuse, She's Come Undone became a surprise bestseller, and several publications, including The New York Times, placed it on their year-end "best of" lists. Then, in 1997, kingmaker Oprah Winfrey selected it for her prestigious Book Club, catapulting Lamb into the literary limelight.

By the time he received Oprah's endorsement, Lamb was nearly finished with his second novel. Published in 1998, I Know This Much Is True garnered rave reviews for its sensitive portrayal of twin brothers, one of whom suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. To Lamb's surprise, Oprah beckoned a second time, praising his sophomore effort with these admiring words: "It's not just a book, it's a life experience."

Lamb is tremendously grateful for the boost the Oprah experience has given his career. "It opened me up to so many more millions of readers I might not have had," he told USA Today, "but it's also a double-edged sword." At best a painstakingly slow writer, he found himself crippled by writer's block, choking on the pressure to produce a worthy third novel. "I had all those Oprah readers with their expectations in my writing room. I had to open my office door and shoo everybody's expectations out of there." The process took nearly a decade, but finally, in 2008, Lamb published The Hour I First Believed, an ambitious epic that touches on a rich ragout of sociopolitical themes, including the Columbine killings, Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq War.

In addition to his own work, Lamb has edited two bestselling anthologies of writing authored by inmates at York Correctional Institute, the maximum security women's prison in Niantic, Connecticut, where he began teaching in 1999. Lamb speaks lovingly of his students, some of whom have evolved into wonderful writers. The first anthology, Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, was published in 2003 to great critical acclaim and earned for one of the inmates the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award. It also became the center of legal controversy. Following publication, the State of Connecticut attempted to sue the women authors -- not for the modest earnings the book would net them after they left prison, but for the entire cost of their incarceration: $117 a day! The suit was settled, thanks to the intervention of sympathetic officials, legislators, and journalists. In 2007, Lamb published I'll Fly Away, a second anthology of the York inmates' writing.

Good To Know

Raised in a blue-collar corner of Connecticut, Lamb grew up in the looming shadow of Norwich State Hospital, a sprawling facility for the mentally ill. Now closed, the institution played a part in Lamb's family history. As an adult, Lamb learned that the grandfather he had never known had been locked up in the hospital for a violent attack on his wife. He later discovered that his grandfather had died of brain cancer and wondered if illness had provoked the violence. Unsurprisingly, the themes of incarceration and mental illness play important roles in his stories.

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    1. Hometown:
      Willimantic, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 17, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Norwich, Connecticut
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Education, University of Connecticut, 1972; M.A. in Education, 1977; M.F.A. in Writing, Vermont College, 1984

Read an Excerpt

I'll Fly Away
Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison

Chapter One

Florida Memories

By Bonnie Jean Foreshaw

It's Thursday morning at 6:00 A.M., and we two have just arrived at the open-air flea market, the largest in south Florida. I'm an apprentice shopper and my teacher is my Aunt Mandy. Later this morning, the market will be hot and crowded—alive with music, laughter, gossip, and bartering about the price of everything from necklaces to nectarines. But at the moment, it's cool and quiet. Our focus is fish.

"Pay close attention to the eyes of the fish," Aunt Mandy instructs as we walk from stall to stall. "If the eyes are clear, not cloudy, and the color of the skin's not fading, then the fish is fresh." Auntie's dressed for shopping in a pink sleeveless blouse, burgundy pedal pushers, Italian sandals, and a white sun visor. I'm wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and rubber flip-flops. I am tall for my age, and starting to get the kind of shape men take a second look at. My glasses take up half my face. "But you have to shop with your finger and your nose, too, not just your eyes," Auntie instructs. "Poke the fish gently near its fin. If it leaves a dent, then you don't want it. If it doesn't, it's probably part of the morning's catch. And listen to me, Jeannie. Fresh fish never smells foul."

We stop at one of the stalls where the fish are lined up, one against the other, on a bed of ice. The fish man approaches us. He's handsome—black hair, hazel eyes, tank top and cut-off jeans. "May I help you, ma'am?" I watch him take in Aunt Mandy's curves, her green eyes andhoney-colored complexion. I might as well be invisible.

"Well, maybe you can," Auntie says. "Oh, by the way, I'm Mandy and this is my niece, Jeannie. Now what's your name?"

"I'm Ricardo," the fish man says. He's sucking in his stomach, and his feet are moving up and down like he's trying to stretch his height. "It's nice to meet you, Mandy."

"Nice to meet you, too. Now tell me, Ricardo, how much you want for these five yellowtails?"

"Well, let's see. They're seventy-five cents apiece, so that's a total of . . ."

He stops to watch Auntie pass her fingers through her shoulder-length hair. It's salt-and-pepper-colored, but Mandy's still got it. "Uh, three seventy-five." "Oh," Auntie says, half-shocked and half-disappointed. "That fellow three stalls down says he's selling his yellowtails for fifty cents each. So unless we can work out a deal . . ."

The smile drops off of Mr. Ricardo's face, but Auntie's smile returns. Her gold tooth is glimmering. She shifts her weight, puts her hand on her hip.

"Mandy, it's a deal," Ricardo says. "Five yellowtails for two-fifty. That's a dollar twenty-five cut I'm giving you."

"Which I appreciate," Auntie says. "And look at it this way: you've just gained yourself a faithful customer. Now, tell me. How much you selling those red snappers for? If I can get them for the same price as the yellowtails, I'll buy some of them, too. And conch."

I stand there looking from one to the other. Auntie touches the small gold cross at her throat. She fingers her earring. I can tell Mr. Ricardo is only pretending to do the math in his head. "Okay," he finally says. "Sold."

Auntie pays for the fish and conch, thanks him, and we walk away. A few stalls down from Mr. Ricardo's, she turns to me. "Okay, now," she says. "Show me a fresh fish."

I go up and down the row, looking each fish in the eye, then pick one up by its tail. I turn it, look at its other eye, study its coloration. When I press my finger against its head, near the fin, there's no indentation. "This one."

Her look is serious. "You think this fish is fresh?"

I hesitate. "Yes."

Aunt Mandy flashes me her gold-toothed smile. "Well, Jeannie, now you know how to pick fresh fish."

I'm excited to have passed the test, but I've been wondering something. "Auntie?" I say. "I don't remember going to any other fish stalls before we went to Mr. Ricardo's."

She laughs. "You and I knew that, but Ricardo didn't. It's one of the tricks of the trade when you shop at the flea market. But bear in mind, Ricardo would rather make a sale than not sell. If he has fish left at the end of the day, that's a loss and a waste for him. So we were doing him a favor. Now, come on. Let's cross the street and I'll teach you how to pick out vegetables and fruit."

We meander among the tomatoes and squashes, the potatoes and mangoes and plums. Shopping for fresh produce is a matter of looking and smelling, but mostly of feeling, Auntie says. "Fruits and vegetables can get damaged by cold weather, the way they're packed, or how far they've traveled to get to the market. If the skin is firm, that means it's fresh. If it's loose, then it isn't. And always check for bruises."

Although I'm listening to my aunt, it's the peaches in the stall to my right that have my attention. They're big and beautiful, golden yellow with blushes of pink, and their aroma makes my mouth juice up. I'm thinking about how I might get myself one of those peaches.

"Pick us out some bananas," Auntie says. It's test number two.

My eyes pass over several bunches before I pick one up. I check each banana, one by one, then walk over to Auntie, who is examining pears. "These are nice, firm, and yellow," I say, handing her the bunch I've chosen. "Tight skin, no bruises."

She twists the bunch back and forth, then nods her approval. "Good job," she says. Smiling all over myself, I decide to seize the moment. "Auntie, may I get a few peaches?"

I'll Fly Away
Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison
. Copyright © by Wally Lamb. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents


In Remembrance     vii
Acknowledgments     ix
Revisions and Corrections   Wally Lamb     1
When I Was a Child...
Florida Memories   Bonnie Jean Foreshaw     13
Kidnapped!   Robin Ledbetter     19
Shhh, Don't Tell   Deborah Ranger     26
In the Mood "Savannah"     37
Tinker Bell   Brendalis Medina     39
One Saturday Morning   Chasity C. West     47
Gifts My Family Gave Me
The Captain   Kathleen Wyatt     57
A Brother's Gift   Jennifer Rich     63
The Rainbow Ring   Carmen Ramos     64
Pictures of a Daughter, Viewed in Prison   Christina MacNaughton     67
Under-Where?   Lynne M. Friend     68
Why I Write   Careen Jennings     75
Lavender and Vanilla   Kimberly Walker     77
A Gift   Robin Ledbetter     78
Broken Dolls and Marionettes
Broken Doll   Lynda Gardner     85
"No" Is Not Just a Word   Christina MacNaughton     89
Wishes   Charissa Willette     92
The Marionette   Lynne M. Friend     104
Falling   Robin Ledbetter     114
Crime and Punishment
Lost and Found   Roberta Schwartz     119
The Chase   Brendalis Medina     151
Prom Queen   Jennifer Rich     159
Down on the Farm   Kelly Donnelly     166
Big Girl Jail   Robin Ledbetter     168
Wasted Time   Lisa White     176
Serpents   Robin Ledbetter     177
The Lights Are Flickering, Again   Susan Budlong Cole     179
Just Another Death   Christina MacNaughton     182
I'll Fly Away
My Three Fates   Chasity C. West     191
Dance of the Willow   Kelly Donnelly     202
I Won't Burn Alone   Brendalis Medina     203
Seasons' Rhythms   Kelly Donnelly     211
Flight of the Bumblebee   Kathleen Wyatt     213
Reawakening Through Nature: A Prison Reflection   Barbara Parsons     215
Contributors     241
Facilitators' Biographical Statements     253
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Customer Reviews

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( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating Stories!

    I enjoyed the short stories of this book. The central theme of women who come from poor backgrounds and who are victims of men is very touching. However, there is a nice mixture, such as an account of prison life written by a former lawyer. I personally really loved the stories of growing up and the women's marriages. The poem about a daughter was especially heart-wrenching for me. It was easy to forget that these stories were written by the women in prison themselves, because they are so nicely done. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others as well.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    This book is great!

    After reading,"Couldn't Keep it to Myself", I had to read this one. Once I started, I couldn't put it down. These ladies are unbelievability strong and couragous for allowing their stories to be printed. And Wally Lamb is a hero in my book! If you need a reality check in regards to your life, just read these ladies stories.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    excellent book

    Short stories written by women prisoners. Each story was different yet I felt a common theme throughout many of them. Many of these women were victims of abuse or circumstances beyond their control. It makes you stop and think before judge someone too harshly.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    A look at a different side of life.

    A great insight in to real women, like any of us, affected by lifestyles many of us will never know, and an understanding on how any of us could have been in their shoes. A peek in to the lives of female prisoners and how they survive and persevere. A great project by Wally Lamb.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2012

    Jacob

    Meh...

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2014

    A collection of short-stories that made me wanting to read more!

    A collection of short stories written by women that have been to the depths of despair and survived. A stark contrast to my life living here in 'care-bear' land. Made me want to read more from these gifted women.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2012

    Dani

    I'm sorry.....but I'm breaking up with you. Cayce's alive......he still loves me and I still love him. Can we be friends, though?

    0 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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