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Olivia Wright

Studying for an PhD in American and Canadian Studies

Thesis Title

  • ‘We Asked for Life!’: American Women’s Prison Zines as sites of Art and Protest 1933-2014

My thesis examines the unacknowledged and under researched world of women’s prisons zines in the United States. Having begun to establish the genre in my masters dissertation, my PhD traces women’s prison zines back to the 1930s with the first known publication The Eagle and will discuss how this literary tradition grew through the latter half of the twentieth century and how it continues to have a presence in 21st century mass incarceration.

Prison zines are short collections of art and literature produced by inmates that circulate both within the primary prison where they are produced, and amongst other penal facilities in America with some even reaching the general public. The zines cover a broad range of topics including many outside of the criminal justice system such as race, motherhood, physical and sexual abuse, addiction and education. This cacophony of voices adds immeasurable detail to the tradition of women’s prison writing, beyond the popular autobiographies of Assata Shakur and Angela Davis who dominate scholarly debate about female incarceration, and beyond the statistics and stereotypes that pervade popular perceptions of female prisoners.


Through a variety of critical lenses I intend to discuss how, despite being products of an enclosed world, these short collections of art and literature produced by inmates have value for the larger community. Sociologically and historically they can give a sense of the times, culture and concerns - concerns which have a continuing relevance today. Moreover, through discussions of race, sexuality, motherhood, violence and the criminal justice system, they image what imprisonment meant and means for women, not merely in prison but in the United States at large. Most importantly perhaps, they represent the human desire to record, protest, engage and create: to gather, speak and refuse simply to accept, even at the darkest hour.

Expertise

Theme

Conferences

'Radical America: Revolutionary, Dissident and Extremist Magazines', NAPs Symposium, 20th May, The Keep, University of Sussex

Awards

  • Graduate School Travel Prize, University of Nottingham 2015-16
  • The School of Cultures Languages and Area Studies Postgraduate Travel Prize, University of Nottingham, 2015-16