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Last week PEN America announced the launch of the PEN/Edward Bunker Prize in Fiction. This to honor the legacy of the famed crime fiction author and screenwriter. The PEN/Bunker Prize will celebrate short works in fiction by writers who are currently incarcerated and will be presented for the first time as part of the PEN America’s 2019 Prison Writing Awards.

Public domain photograph of Edward Bunker taken at an unknown California prison.

EDWARD BUNKER, who became a prolific writer while incarcerated, leveraged the power of the writing process to reinvent himself into the iconic storyteller author and screenwriter we know today. Celebrated for conceiving some of the most gripping crime stories of our time, he penned numerous books, collaborated with celebrity A-listers like Quentin Tarantino and Danny Trejo, was a screenwriter on Straight Time (1978), Runaway Train (1985) and Animal Factory (2000), and acted alongside Hollywood elite in films such as The Running Man, Tango & Cash, and Reservoir Dogs. Thirteen years after his death, his legacy and the transformative power of writing continues through his family’s support of the PEN America Prison Writing Program.

In addition to a cash prize, each recipient will be paired with a writing mentor and given a clear Swintec typewriter—the only typewriter allowed in U.S. prisons, and the one used by Edward Bunker when he first began to write.

“Eddie Bunker’s inspirational legacy is threaded through the hundreds of submissions that pour into PEN America’s Prison Writing Awards each year,” said Caits Meissner, PEN America Prison and Justice Writing Program manager. “Like Eddie, our writers use the written word to expose the painful aspects of incarceration, as well as offer up moments of triumphant humanity that shine light into dark spaces. Thirteen years after his passing, we’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue Eddie’s legacy of transformative writing with his family’s generous support of our program.”

“The Bunker prize is a perfect match for what PEN America is doing with the Prison and Justice Program—reaching out to prisoners who have turned to writing as a salvation, and hopefully a future. I wanted to bring hope and inspiration to those important voices out there that have value and need to be heard. And just as importantly, because our son, Brendan Bunker, sees this as one more way to keep his father and his work immortalized,” said Jennifer Steele, wife of Eddie Bunker.

PEN America’s Prison Writing Program, founded in 1971 in the wake of the Attica riots, advances the restorative, rehabilitative, and transformative possibilities of writing, and has offered many thousands of incarcerated writers free writing resources, skilled mentors, and audiences for their work. A hallmark of the program is the PEN America Prison Writing Awards, which recognizes works by incarcerated writers in poetry, fiction, drama, nonfiction, and memoir.

The crowded living quarters of San Quentin Prison in California, in January 2006. As a result of overcrowding in the California state prison system, the United States Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population (the second largest in the nation, after Texas). Public domain photograph

Every year hundreds of imprisoned writers from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to the Prison Writing Awards, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.

This month, the first print anthology of award-winning works from the Prison Writing Awards will be published. And, yesterday, September 13, PEN America presented Break Out: Voices from the Inside at the Brooklyn Book Festival, featuring readings and artistic interpretations of works by incarcerated writers, staged by prominent authors on the outside. This is part of a series of events centered on mass incarceration and writers in prison. For more information visit the events calendar.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.

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