Zek: An American Prison Story (2016), by Arthur Longworth, captures the tedious and mundane, the miserable and disappointing, the irrational and vicious aspects of doing time behind bars. But it also offers keen assurance that, in spite of these highly toxic dynamics, the resilient human spirit retains the ability to hold on to a hopeful attitude.
Mitch Ryals has written an article that reveals Zek’s inspiration as well as the publishing story behind Zek.
click to enlarge Arthur Longworth’s dog-eared manuscript was inconspicuously shuffled among the other essays that the volunteer English teacher had to grade. Held together with a thick black clip, the tattered document had yet to be read by anyone beyond prison walls.
We want to congratulate Arthur for winning a PEN award for his essay, “The Yard.” The award ceremony is November 28th at The Greene Space in New York. You can read the essay here.
Every year hundreds of inmates from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population. Manuscripts come to the Prison Writing Program in a variety of forms: some are handwritten, some are typed, some are written in the margins of legal documents.
ASU professor, Joe Lockard, makes the case for Zek being a part “of a new wave of American literature.”
It is well-known that there are currently 2.4 million people in US prisons and jails. What is less-known is that they write and are producing a new wave of American literature.