DOING TIME

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF PRISON WRITING FROM PEN

This anthology of material by winners of PEN America’s annual prison writing contests provides a polyphonic chorus of rejoinder to our policies of maximum incarceration. The collection’s prose is honed and direct, with many contributors striking a hypnotic balance between the urgency inherent in writing as survival and the punishingly absurd nature of their circumstances: though their literary imaginations range widely, bodily, they—re going no place. Most at issue is the individual reader’s openness toward otherwise shunned figures. Several pieces are from longtime death-row inmates, presenting lucid, provocative narratives that don—t excuse their youthful brutality. A thick sheaf of entries represent the hapless POWs of the Drug War (often disadvantaged women), serving long sentences for semantic and violence-free crimes. The distribution of fiction, poetry, and essays into 11 topical sections (e.g. “Players, Games—) allows a textured diversity of excellent pieces, such as Paul Mulryan’s scorching account of the 11-day Lucasville, Ohio, riot; Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetic reach toward lost family; Dax Xenos’s O. Henry-winning fiction, “Death of a Duke—; and Robert Moriarty’s droll, harrowing memoir, “Pilots in the War on Drugs.” Introductory essays by Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean and SUNY Purchase professor emeritus Chevigny provide a moral chassis; the latter’s piece charts the prison writing movement as a response to the fluctuations of penal theory between reform and retribution, offering a chilling vision of our current maximum-time, hard-labor model as a machine of social control, devouring ever more persons of color and of the underclass even as the crime rate declines. Essential reading for those concerned by this imbalance—and it should be more than essential for lawmakers and citizens who support the hard bargain of liberty for order without considering the darkness created.

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-55970-478-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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