200 Days in the Life of the College

Wednesday, November 10

Prison writing: The view from inside

By Olivia Wolfgang-Smith ’11

Addressing a capacity audience at The Other Side, a Utica coffeehouse, Professor of English and Creative Writing Doran Larson recounts his discovery of “a coherent body of literature” in global prison writing. Since 2006, Larson has taught a creative writing workshop inside Attica Correctional Facility. He has initiated a college program inside Attica and is now working with Mohawk Valley Community College to found college programs inside local prisons.

Larson says that he was struck by “the depth and profundity of experience” and recurring tropes in the work of his inmate students. The patterns that he observed prompted him to research prison writing across cultures, leading to several published articles. Larson is also editing Fourth City, a collection of essays solicited from prison inmates across the country.

At Hamilton, Larson teaches immensely popular seminars on both American and global prison writing. Both courses include a visit to Larson’s workshop inside Attica, a highlight of the semester for many students. Larson describes the seminars as opportunities to raise awareness by “bringing the facts and products of the prison outside the wall” as well as spaces in which to “carry on a conversation” with Hamilton students that has changed and accelerated his research.

Of his years working simultaneously with students at a correctional facility and at a selective liberal arts college, Larson says, “If heaven is outside a classroom, that doesn’t make the classroom hell. But if hell is outside, a classroom feels like heaven. That’s the difference between teaching at Hamilton and Attica.”