Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women's Prisons

Overview

Drawing on extensive interviews with ninety-four women prisoners, Megan Sweeney examines how incarcerated women use available reading materials to come to terms with their pasts, negotiate their present experiences, and reach toward different futures.

Foregrounding the voices of African American women, Sweeney analyzes how prisoners read three popular genres: narratives of victimization, urban crime fiction, and self-help books. She outlines the history of reading and education ...

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Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women's Prisons

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Overview

Drawing on extensive interviews with ninety-four women prisoners, Megan Sweeney examines how incarcerated women use available reading materials to come to terms with their pasts, negotiate their present experiences, and reach toward different futures.

Foregrounding the voices of African American women, Sweeney analyzes how prisoners read three popular genres: narratives of victimization, urban crime fiction, and self-help books. She outlines the history of reading and education in U.S. prisons, highlighting how the increasing dehumanization of prisoners has resulted in diminished prison libraries and restricted opportunities for reading. Although penal officials have sometimes endorsed reading as a means to control prisoners, Sweeney illuminates the resourceful ways in which prisoners educate and empower themselves through reading. Given the scarcity of counseling and education in prisons, women use books to make meaning from their experiences, to gain guidance and support, to experiment with new ways of being, and to maintain connections with the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This important book represents a significant contribution to interdisciplinary research focused on women prisoners' reading habits and attempts at self-education and improvement.—Library Journal

One of the strengths of the book is Sweeney's desire and ability to listen and to be transformed through the listening. . . .A necessary and unique contribution.—Fellowship magazine

Library Journal
This important book represents a significant contribution to interdisciplinary research focused on women prisoners' reading habits and attempts at self-education and improvement. Sweeney (English and Afroamerican and African Studies, Univ. of Michigan) interviewed 94 women prisoners and collected data on their experiences reading behind bars. Along the way, she provides insight into the history of reading and education in the U.S. penal system, attitudes toward African American urban fiction, and the gender and race politics of corrections. She details how reading and library service can be used as instruments of control by prison authorities and how prisoners still manage to use reading as a tool for self-improvement. In-depth portraits of two women prisoners show the positive impact reading can have despite a lack of educational programs. VERDICT This book will be of interest to a broad range of academics and students, including those in sociology, criminal justice, education, women's studies, African American studies, and literature. There will also be a strong secondary audience among those interested in adult literacy, prisoner advocacy, or social justice issues.—Alison M. Lewis, Drexel Univ., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807871003
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Megan Sweeney is assistant professor of English and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

1 Tell Me What You Read; I Will Tell You What You Are: Reading and Education in U.S. Penal History 19

2 The Underground Book Railroad: Material Dimensions of Reading 54

3 Between a Politics of Pain and a Politics of Pain's Disavowal 83

Interlude 1 Denise: A Portrait 129

4 Fear of Books: Reading Urban Fiction 140

5 To Set the Captives Free: Self-Help Reading Practices 173

Interlude 2 Monique: A Portrait 213

6 Encounters: The Meeting Ground of Books 226

Conclusion: This Really Isn't a Rehabilitation Place: Policy Considerations 252

Appendix: Study-Related Materials 259

Notes 271

Bibliography 305

Index 325

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