Last year, Haymarket Books announced a new fellowship aimed at supporting and uplifting writers impacted by the criminal legal system: The Writing Freedom Fellowship. Today, along with the Mellon Foundation, they’ve announced the inaugural cohort of fellows, twenty writers whose work “explores a wide range of themes and topics, including motherhood, memory, borders, disability, the natural world, music, HIV/AIDS in prison, mental health, foster care, the rural South, solitary confinement, the meaning of freedom, transformation, and much more.”
“The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with nearly two million people imprisoned at any given time,” explains Haymarket in a press release. “Beyond prison and jail, the carceral state extends to include the criminalization of immigration, policing and probation, family policing, and involuntary commitment. These systems profoundly impact not only those who experience imprisonment but also their families and communities. The harms of the carceral state disproportionately impact communities of color and those living in poverty, and foster environments of isolation, dehumanization, and social stigma. Against this stark backdrop, Writing Freedom seeks to build community among writers, foster their creative practices, and bring their essential voices and perspectives to broader audiences. Through their work, these twenty writers help us imagine a world beyond the criminal legal system’s punishing grasp.”
“Our understanding of American life is incomplete without voices that represent the experience and perspective of the millions of system-impacted people who live and work alongside us every day,” says Tayari Jones, advisory board member and author of the novel An American Marriage, in the same release. “This award is for writers, chosen by other writers. In this, we are affirming and deepening our understanding and definition of community, coalition, and even family. There is much made of ‘speaking truth to power’— but this project underscores a more revolutionary reality. Truth IS power, just as writing is freedom.”
Congratulations to the 2024 Writing Freedom Fellows:
C. Fausto Cabrera (he/him) is a multi-genre writer and artist incarcerated from 2003–24. His work has appeared in the Colorado Review, the Antioch Review, the American Literary Review, and the Woodward Review. The Parameters of Our Cage is an epistle collaboration with photographer Alec Soth.
Zeke Caligiuri (he/they) is a multi-genre writer and editor from South Minneapolis. His work has been widely published in journals and anthologies. Directly impacted by over two decades of incarceration, he is now helping to build the Re-Enfranchised Coalition, reinvesting in the humanization of those still stuck within the captivity business.
Starr Davis (she/her) is a poet, essayist, and dedicated mother from Columbus, Ohio. Her work has been featured in various literary platforms, and she has been recognized as a fellow at The Luminary, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and PEN America.
Stefani Echeverría-Fenn (she/they) is a queer nonfiction writer whose work explores motherhood, madness, disability, and housing justice. Her work has been published in Sinister Wisdom, The Town: An Anthology of Oakland Poets, Sententiae Antiquae, and Eidolon, and performed as part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Stefani was a 2023 Lambda Literary Fellow.
Dee Farmer (she/her) is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, and a trailblazer in transgender and prison litigation, having built a robust legal writing practice. She is the architect of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Farmer v. Brennan. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, she disseminated her poems and essays within the Bureau of Prisons.
Victoria Newton Ford (she/they) is a poet and essayist from Memphis, Tennessee. Her writing has been supported by TORCH Literary Arts, MacDowell, Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, and the Hurston/Wright Writers Workshop. She is currently working on her first manuscript about Black mothers and their daughters, captivity, and haunting.
Keeonna Harris (she/her) is a memoirist, creative nonfiction writer, and abolitionist scholar, whose work centers the experiences of Black women. Her memoir Mainline Mama will debut in 2025 from Amistad Press. She is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Washington.
Kwaneta Harris (she/her) is an incarcerated writer who has spent eight years in solitary confinement in Texas. She focuses on the intersection of race, gender, and place and is working on a book about youth transferred to adult solitary confinement.
Kenneth Hartman (he/him) is an award-winning writer and prison reform activist. He is deeply involved in transforming the prison system and assisting the recently paroled.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (he/him) is the author of Children of the Land: a Memoir, Cenzontle, and Dulce. He is a founding member of the Undocupoets, which eliminated citizenship requirements from all major poetry book prizes in the U.S. He teaches at St. Mary’s College and the Ashland University Low-Res MFA program.
Quntos KunQuest (he/him) is an incarcerated fiction writer, artist, and songwriter from Shreveport, Louisiana. He is the author of This Life: A Novel (Agate, 2021), which was awarded a 2022 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the Debut Fiction category.
Ken Lamberton (he/him) writes about the nature of the Southwest. He is the author of Wilderness and Razor Wire: A Naturalist’s Observations from Prison, which won the 2002 John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. He has published hundreds of essays and six books, the latest of which is Chasing Arizona.
John J. Lennon (he/him) is a prison journalist and contributing editor at Esquire. His writing frequently appears in the New York Times and the Atlantic, and his forthcoming book, The Tragedy of True Crime, will be published by Celadon in 2025. He’s currently incarcerated at Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York.
Arthur Longworth (he/him) is a six-time PEN Prison Writing Award winner, Writing For Justice Fellow, and author of Zek: An American Prison Story (Gabalfa Press, 2016). He lives in Washington state.
Ian Manuel (he/him) is the author of the memoir My Time Will Come (Pantheon, 2022). Through his writing, Manuel explores growing up in prison and solitary confinement, where he spent eighteen years of his life from ages fifteen to thirty-three. Manuel lives in Brooklyn and travels the country as a public speaker.
Ahmed Naji (he/him) is a bilingual writer, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and official criminal from Egypt. His works delve into music, contemporary art, prisons, and politics. Naji is the author of Rotten Evidence: Reading and Writing in Prison (McSweeney’s, 2023).
Katie Schmid (she/her) is a writer from Illinois. She is the author of the poetry collection Nowhere (University of New Mexico Press, 2021), which Poetry magazine has praised for “transform[ing] the seasonal perils of girlhood, demonstrating compassion for that which both disgusts and enthralls.”
Michele Scott (she/her) is an essayist, author, and prison reform advocate. She served thirty years on a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in the world’s largest women’s prison in California—until granted a Governor’s commutation. Her writing has been published in Elle and the Marshall Project among others.
Crystal Wilkinson (she/her) is from Indian Creek, Kentucky. Her books include Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts, The Birds of Opulence, and Perfect Black. She has won an O. Henry Prize for her short fiction and edits Screen Door Press, publishing diverse fiction throughout the Black diaspora.
Stevie Wilson (he/him) is a currently imprisoned Black queer abolitionist organizer and facilitator from Philadelphia. Wilson is the founder of the inside abolitionist study collective 9971 and is the founder of the abolitionist journal In the Belly. He is a columnist for the Abolitionist, a newspaper published by Critical Resistance.