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Cover for Words No Bars Can Hold

Words No Bars Can Hold

Literacy Learning in Prison

Deborah Appleman


List Price: 23.95*
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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (6/17/2019)


Incarcerated bodies, liberated minds: a narrative of literacy education behind bars.

Words No Bars Can Hold provides a rare glimpse into literacy learning under the most dehumanizing conditions. Deborah Appleman chronicles her work teaching college- level classes at a high- security prison for men, most of whom are serving life sentences. Through narrative, poetry, memoir, and fiction, the students in Appleman’s classes attempt to write themselves back into a society that has erased their lived histories.

The students’ work, through which they probe and develop their identities as readers and writers, illuminates the transformative power of literacy. Appleman argues for the importance of educating the incarcerated, and explores ways to interrupt the increasingly common journey from urban schools to our nation’s prisons. From the sobering endpoint of what scholars have called the “school to prison pipeline,” she draws insight from the narratives and experiences of those who have traveled it.

Praise For Words No Bars Can Hold: Literacy Learning in Prison

An educator cannot read this book without being challenged to see all people differently, to recognize his or her complicity in the prison industrial complex, and to insist on literacy instruction rooted in agency, voice, power, and love.
— Ernest Morrell, PhD, Director, Center for Literacy Education, University of Notre Dame

Reading it, we learn so much about the power of writing, about teaching, about what education makes possible, and about the urgent human capacity to define who we are.
— Mike Rose, author of Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education

The result is an eloquent meditation on how the art of narrative defines what it is we mean by education itself.
— Daniel Karpowitz, Director of National Programs, Bard Prison Initiative, author of College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration

Words No Bars Can Hold: Literacy Learning in Prison sharpens our analysis and does the necessary work to break our hearts. Written with a fluid and accessible voice, this essential text invites a wide range of readers to view radical literacy work as a key tool to strengthen national movements to end our prison nation.

— Erica R. Meiners, PhD, Bernard J. Trommel Distinguished Research Professor, Northeastern Illinois University

Words No Bars Can Hold is a guidebook for those looking to improve education within correctional institutions as well as for those of us working to keep students far away from the school-to-prison pipeline.

— Carl Jago, author of The Book in Question: Why and How Reading Is in Crisis

I anticipate this will become a seminal text for those who want to educate men in one of our nation's darkest spaces.
— Alfred W. Tatum, PhD, Dean, UIC College of Education

The author writes not only lucidly, but also with great elegance and power. Her position is based on her profound experience as an instructor and a lover of literature—she has taught 150 incarcerated men. The writing samples she provides are simply extraordinary, not only because of their philosophical and poetical quality, but also because of the insights the writers demonstrate into their lamentable plights. Appleman does more than argue that these men, many of whom have committed heinous crimes and will never be released, are still human beings capable of moral redemption: she shows readers this through their writing. Moreover, the author makes a convincing case for the power of stories, not just to entertain and distract, but also to reimagine the writers’ very selves and supply the sources for inspiration that sometimes life itself refuses. An affecting meditation on the ability of literature to empower inmates who are too often dismissively diminished by society.
— Kirkus Review

Makes the argument — based on the personal experience of the writer, a Carleton College professor, of teaching creative writing in prison — that liberal education is what even the most hardened criminals need.
— The Chronicle of Higher Education

Deborah Appleman's outstanding scholarship on literacy instruction spans decades. In this book, she writes about teaching college literature and writing courses in a high-security prison. But her revelations about the transformative power of education also speak to the necessity of changing teaching in our schools...Appleman's book is important, not just for those who teach in prisons, but also for those who want to understand how to break the school-to-prison pipeline.
— Rethinking Schools

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393713671, 160pp.

Publication Date: June 18, 2019

About the Author

Deborah Appleman lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and is the Hollis L. Caswell Professor of Educational Studies at Carleton College.