National Banned Books Week (Sept. 22-28) Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons

Photo courtesy of George Hodan, Public Domain

“Literature Locked Up” will engage authors, readers, and policymakers to support an end to prison book bans nationwide.”

America’s prison system implements that largest book ban in the United States. This year, as part of national Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 – 28), the free expression and literary organization PEN America will launch a weeklong initiative to shed light on the practice of banning books in the nation’s prisons and jails. “Literature Locked Up: Banned Books Week 2019” will feature events across the country, online activities, and public education to highlight restrictions of the right to read for the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the United States.

“With all of our societal focus on how to make the criminal justice system more just and less self-defeating, vindicating the right to read in prison is an obvious and essential step,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “Yet tens of thousands of books are banned in prisons. Systems ban access to everything from classics including Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Paradise, to coloring and self-help books. These restrictions are stunningly arbitrary and defeat the ability of incarcerated people to learn, explore, and envision a future. We call on states and the federal government to lift these pointless bans and uphold the freedom to read.”

Increasingly, state and federal prisons are dramatically restricting book deliveries or shutting them down entirely. The federal Bureau of Prisons recently attempted to institute an unexplained 30 percent markup on books ordered by or for incarcerated readers, ultimately rescinding that idea under public pressure. Texas’ Department of Criminal Justice has banned over 15,000 books from its prison system, including books by Alice Walker, John Grisham, Michelle Alexander, Jenna Bush Hager, Frederick Douglass, and Bob Dole. Throughout Banned Books Week, PEN America and its members will highlight this injustice and call for reform.

As part of “Literature Locked Up,” PEN America has launched a national petition drive urging the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to convene hearings on book banning in the nation’s prisons. The organization is coordinating with bookstores and other partners across the country to highlight book bans, including events in Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, and Texas. And alongside the Dramatists Legal Fund, PEN America will co-present Banned Together, a series of performances across the country of shows that have been censored or challenged on the American stage.

“Banning books is a serious threat to free inquiry and free expression,” said award-winning author and PEN America board member Dinaw Mengestu. “We’re calling on state prison systems across the country to review their policies and, where possible, rescind arbitrary book bans. And we’re asking members of Congress to review book restriction practices at the federal level. Oftentimes all that stands between prisoners and a transformative work of literature are arbitrary decisions made by wardens and prison mailrooms. It just shouldn’t be that way.”

PEN America has long been at the forefront of supporting the right of incarcerated people to create and access literature, including mentoring, honoring, and finding audiences for writers currently in prison through the Prison and Justice Writing Program. Many of those writers will be featured in a series of public readings co-sponsored by PEN America and The Poetry Project. That series, BREAK OUT, will include dozens of public readings events for the month of September.

Read more about the “Literature Locked Up: Banned Books Week 2019” project; see events related to the initiative; and follow our social channels to get live updates as more events are added to the calendar. You can also listen to a playlist of banned songs assembled by PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection.

“you buy we fry” . . . and other poems in response to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt; Roald Dahl and His Writing Hut

Newstand Chapbook illustration by J.C. Leyendecker circa 1899

The women and men at their devices …
In fine Whitmanesque publishing tradition
Put out newfangled electronic edition
A word symphonic record to leave behind
Carefully tweaked, tempered and timed
Baring witness to love, history, and crime
All good-natured, well-reasoned, and rhymed
© 2016, Jamie Dedes

And the week flies by and we find ourselves at Tuesday again, the wonderful day when we share poems submitted by diverse writers in response the last Wednesday Writing Prompt. Everyone Should Have a Chair, September 11, a peaceful suggestion this time around asking poets to tell us about their favorite spot in which to write. A modest collection today courtesy of Jason Muckley, Paul Brookes, mm brazfield, Sheila Jacob, Urmila Mahajan, Sonja Benskin Mesher, and Pali Raj.  Along the same theme, I’ve added a short seven minute documentary featuring Roald Dahl and his writing hut.

Enjoy! and do join us for the next Wednesday Writing Prompt, which will post tomorrow morning.

The Mountain

The mountain calls
Draws me to her slopes
Overlooking the world below
Above, my perspective changed
The solitude is freedom
A peace and rest
To forgive
Begin again
Mind clear of every expectation
My thoughts flow
Responding to the mountain

© 2019, Jason A. Muckley 

Jason’s site is Poems for Warriors

JASON MUCKLEY: I have been writing since childhood and I self-published my first collection of poetry in July 2018. Writing is both a hobby and a way to express myself that I don’t find in any other facet of life. It is something I truly love but also I feel like the more I write, the more I have to write.

My first self-published book is called “Poems for Warriors,” and it is available on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

When I am not writing, I work full-time as a Project Manager. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I am also a father of three.

Jason says of his poetry collection: “We are at war. Life is a battle. Every day we fight for joy, peace… love. This is correspondence from the frontlines. Exploring themes of the struggle, love, and change, this book of poetry will take the reader through the ups and downs of life. The reader will journey through the exhilaration and challenges of being in love, of working through difficulty in a relationship, and reflecting on what you have and what it costs. The reader will descend into the pain and trials faced day in and day out. The reader will see the clouds breaking as the morning dawns and everything begins to change. This book is the story of one man’s life, similar to a life lived by millions as he tries to make sense of the constant battle that surrounds him.”

we buy you fry

my favorite chair
are the sidewalks
those in the 20’s and 30’s
edge of downtown streets
a mix of rustic houses
shacks and alley ways
some with flowers
some with trash
my favorite chair
is not comforting at first
it affords me front row view
to the less palatable aspects
of genteel society
exposed vaginas cocks
twisted tongues
defecation out of
hundreds of orifices
then there’s the strip mall chair
with the upright and honest
vendor my favorite one
is Donicio from Panama
he has a way of telling
funny stories
across from there
is another chair
‘you buy, we fry’
it’s mostly busy
on the sabbath
my eyes their
veils of formal education
lifted and the life of life
exposed to all my senses
there is something thrilling
about hopscotching through
dog shit in a city
that treats us all the same
my favorite chair
in the bars of the people
although people aren’t
what they used to be
my amiga Casimira
has the latest I Phone
when i want to look in to
her deep brown eyes
and have her Oaxacan accent
transport me to another land
especially on jury duty day
to no avail
i lost my friend
to the latest pop up store
at the end of most days
when the journey’s done
i go home to my derelict
dog and two jaded kitties
with caffeine in one hand
Phoebe Ann the cat on my lap
the memories of my rest stops
deposited silently
in the removable data bank

© 2019, mm brazfield

mm’s site is: Words Less Spoken

Everywhere is my favourite place to sit and write.

Every weather notes made in the pad of my brain.

Sat on metal forms in cemeteries gusted by autumn, deep in leaf litter.

Sat on metal forms in towns while Dippers dip around, and shoppers hustle their lists into bags.

Sat in my garden as the pears blush with the last few days of rain,
ready for the fall and separation from their mam.

Sat at home in the leather armchair my muse curls up in my lap after a good scratch, her small heart taps and purrs a rhythm on my thigh.

© 2019, Paul Brookes

FYI: Paul Brookes, a stalwart participant in The Poet by Day Wednesday Writing Prompt, is running an ongoing series on poets, Wombwell Rainbow Interviews. Connect with Paul if you’d like to be considered for an interview. Visit him, enjoy the interviews, get introduced to some poets who may be new to you, and learn a few things.

Prolific Yorkshire Poet, Paul Brookes

The Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jamie Dedes

  •  Paul’s Amazon Page U.S. HERE
  • Paul’s Amazon Page U.K. HERE

More poems by Paul at Michael Dickel’s Meta/ Phore(e) /Play

A Strawberry-Red Sofa

Give me the warmth
of a padded sofa
where I can cat-curl
with pen and notebook.

I could ink my poems
at a mahogany bureau:
a gift from Mum and Dad
when I passed my 11-plus.

A place to read books
and write essays
for English homework.
The Haunted House.

A Rainy Night
and later, A-level critiques
of The Windhover
and The Wasteland.

I could replace
the bureau’s worn hinges
and search old words
locked in wood-memory.

But give me comfort
and today’s open page.
A family living room
with deep-pile rugs.

A strawberry-red sofa
with three plump cushions,
wide windows
onto my garden

and a view of treetops,
T.V. aerials, satellite dishes
and cotton-wool clouds
dreaming across the sky.

© 2019, Sheila Jacob

To purchase Sheila’s little gem of a volume, Through My Father’s Eyes (review, interview, and a sampling of poems HERE), contact Sheila directly at

The Rocking Chair

It gleams
genuine teakwood I’m told

so smooth

ideal for dreaming through a tv show
contemplating voices in my head
staring at finely worked saptaparni
leaves past a money plant
frothing the window ledge and
a white metal flash of car roof
reflected in the pumpkin soup
in my white ceramic spoon

and carved too

ideal for leaning into the pillowed
back, cancelling muscles and
joints completely


rocks gently
not the best place to work alert
at anything remotely productive
and yet it can be


for I carry its numbing ease
through the day
enduring between thoughts
that flow between the glazed
slats imprinted on my mind

so durable

one day it’ll carry mine
without me

© 2019, Urmila Mahajan

Urmila’s site is: Drops of Dew

13 years ago I wrote….

“Don’t be scared of the empty chair.

Sit on it.

Don’t be scared of the empty chair.

Stand on it.

Don’t be scared of the empty chair.

Draw it”.

this chair has since been in exhibition; now one of my favourite chairs…..

© 2019, Sonja Benskin Mesher

Sonja’s sites are:

Old, young, he or she
Everyone shouts after me 😀
because everybody likes
happy to be
While you are human being so
Everyone should have a chair, a poem requests
Old, young, he or she
Everyone shouts after me 😀
We are human beings 😊

© 2019,, Pali Raj


Jamie Dedes. I’m a Lebanese-American freelance writer, poet, content editor, blogger and the mother of a world-class actor and mother-in-law of a stellar writer/photographer. No grandchildren, but my grandkitty, Dahlia, rocks big time. I am hopelessly in love with nature and all her creatures. In another lifetime, I was a columnist, a publicist, and an associate editor to a regional employment publication. I’ve had to reinvent myself to accommodate scarred lungs, pulmonary hypertension, right-sided heart failure, connective tissue disease, and a rare managed but incurable blood cancer. The gift in this is time for my primary love: literature. I study/read/write from a comfy bed where I’ve carved out a busy life writing feature articles, short stories, and poetry and managing The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights.  Email for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! , September * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

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