The creative writing students in Zoe Mullery’s class, which has been meeting for three hours every Wednesday evening at San Quentin State Prison since 1999, tried on the name “Brothers in Pen” somewhere along the line, and it stuck. The class is structured as an ongoing workshop, a place to experiment with fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, or some hybrid—the common denominator being story. Because of the ongoing nature of the class—and the number of people at San Quentin with long sentences—some remain in the group for years, which provides the opportunity for trust to be built over time. In the course of focusing on stories, friendship is nurtured, and perspectives on life and literature are offered, respected, challenged, and considered. Some arrive never having written anything before, and others show up burdened with five-pound manuscripts needing input and fresh eyes.
Ten anthologies have been produced in the class since its inception, seven of which are publicly available for purchase (brothersinpen.wordpress.com/anthologies/). The class has been honored to have a number of prominent writers come in as guests over the years, including the two extraordinary writers, Tobias Wolff and Junot Diaz, who each wrote a foreword for a Brothers in Pen anthology. In his foreword, Tobias Wolff gave us a grand and human vision for our stories when he said: “We are story-telling animals. That’s how we remember the people we’ve known, the things we’ve done, and the things we’ve seen others do… To create something is the essential gift of freedom.” And Junot Díaz took our breath away with the power of stories to heal when he said: “…Let these stories, poems, these testimonies, these songs from behind bars, serve ever to remind us of the people were are locking up, men and women who are for all they have done and has been done to them our brothers and sisters. Let these writings serve ever to remind us of the distance we have yet to travel, as a society, as a race. Let these words keep us company, let them comfort us, let them guide us and teach us and warn us and scold us, let these words remind us of who we are and who we could be, until that astonishing day dawns when we are ready to take that first step out of darkness and into light.”
The writers would be very glad to receive comments on their work in the anthologies (which are available for purchase at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/northblockpress); please leave comments here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.