Nearly 3000 essays are now available in the APWA

December 2020
Over 40 of these most recent essays include essays describing the effect of Covid-19 on those incarcerated.

The Zo' as an animated series 

October 2020
Patrick Doolittle’s essay, “‘The Zo’: Disorientation and Retaliatory Disorientation in American Prisons” based on the first person essays in the APWA, evolved into a graphic novel and now a series of animated shorts by The Marshall Project.

“Tagging” of essay content through crowd-sourcing

September 2020
The APWA transcriber community initiated a crowd-sourced essay content tagging project to help visitors to the archive locate themes across essays.

APWA Transcriber Community 

Over 200 volunteers representing 33 states, Puerto Rico, the U.K., Australia, Europe, and Japan are now transcribing essays in the APWA.These transcriptions of handwritten essays increase accessibility and allow full text searching of essays. 2019

APWA reaches 1000th essay online

December 2017
Earlier this month, the Digital Humanities Initiative, better known as DHi, and Doran Larson, the Walcott-Bartlett Chair of Ethics and Christian Evidences, celebrated the entry of the 1,000th letter into the DHi’s American Prison Writing Archive (APWA). more...

National Endowment of the Humanities Grant

March 2017
Doran Larson is awarded $262,000 by the National Endowment of the Humanities for APWA

Grant Writing

2012 - Present
Grant writing and submission to CLIR, NEH and ACLS; ongoing work to design and implement DH features that will facilitate facetted searches of APWA essays, allow volunteers to transcribe hand-written essays, and make the APWA fully sustainable.

APWA Essays

The APWA currently holds 924 essays—enough to fill more than 13 volumes the size of Fourth City; 40-60 new essays or queries for information arrive in each month, or enough to fill at least three additional volumes each year


March-April 2015
Larson and Hamilton staff create a MOOC, “Incarceration’s Witnesses: American Prison Writing” (IWAPW) on the edX platform, enrolling over 2300 students in 103 countries; IWAPW acts, in effect, as an infomercial for the APWA, which is described in week five of the six-week course; APWA staff mount 70 essays available to explore by MOOC students

Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America

Fourth City Published

February 2014
Fourth City; published (a 338-page, 7’x10’ volume); Larson delivers 19 talks, across five states at universities, conferences, prisons, and book stores—promoting Fourth City and describing the APWA, accumulating a growing lists of email addresses from people willing to contribute to the work of the archive; at five key locations (UC-Berkeley, University of Washington-Seattle; University of Houston; St. Louis University; and Boise State University) discussions begin to create regional essay intake hubs

New Call for Essays

New call for essays placed in Prison Legal News

DHI Discussion Begins

Discussions begin between Larson and DHi to create The American Prison Writing Archive

Essays Continue

2011 to Present
Though the Fourth City deadline passes, essays by imprisoned people continue to arrive

Fourth City Contract

Spring 2012
Contract signed with Michigan State University Press to publish Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America

Essay Selection for Fourth City

Fall-Spring 2011
From among 154 essays, Larson selects 71 to be included in Fourth City; assisted by Olivia Wolfgang-Smith ’11, Nora Grenfel ’12, and Maeve Gately ’12, ordering and editing of essays begins

National Solicitation

Fall 2009
With the assistance of Rory Pavach ’10, Larson begins a national solicitation of non-fiction essays by incarcerated Americans writing about their experience inside

NEH Summer Institute

Summer 2009
While attending a NEH Summer Institute on Law and the Liberal Arts, Larson recognizes the absence of discussion of the perspectives of incarcerated people on issues in American criminal justice, and legal order; realizes this is simply from lack of access to such voices

Prison Writing Class

Fall 2008
Larson delivers first prison writing class (which he continues to deliver every fall)

Development of American Prison Writing Course

Larson decides to develop a course on American prison writing but finds no in-print, broad sampling of non-fiction essays by currently incarcerated Americans

Creative Writing Workshop

November 13, 2006
Doran Larson initiates a creative writing workshop inside Attica Correctional Facility

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