1st Edition

Literary Journalism Goes Inside Prison Just Sentences

Edited By David Swick, Richard Lance Keeble Copyright 2024

    Literary Journalism Goes Inside Prison: Just Sentences opens up a new exploration of literary journalism – immersive, long-form journalism so beautifully written that it can stand as literature – in the first anthology to examine literary journalism and prison.

    In this book, a wide range of compelling subjects are considered. These include Nelson Mandela and other prisoners of apartheid; the made-in-prison podcast Ear Hustle; women’s experiences of life behind bars; Behrouz Boochani’s 2018 bestseller No Friend but the Mountains; George Orwell’s artful writing on incarceration; Pete Earley’s immersion into the largest prison in the United States, The Hot House; Arthur Koestler and the Spanish Civil War; Ted Conover’s year as a prison guard in Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing and (most originally) Bruce Springsteen’s execution narrative Nebraska.

    This volume will benefit anyone who writes, studies or teaches any form of narrative nonfiction. Eleven international scholars articulate what makes the work they are analysing so exceptional. At the same time, they offer insights on a diverse range of vital topics. These include journalism ethics, journalism and trauma, media history, cultural studies, criminology and social justice.

    Introduction: Intimate Understanding through Profound Immersion

    David Swick and Richard Lance Keeble

    Part 1
    Nothing Barred: How Reporting Can Humanise the Criminal ‘Other’

    1. On Death Row: Giving Voice to Apartheid’s Forgotten Prisoners

    Peter Auf Der Heyde

    2. ‘Feeling the Facts’: Literary Journalism, Colonialism and Behrouz Boochani’s
    No Friend but the Mountains

    Willa McDonald

    3. ‘We Risked a Whole Newspaper’: Thami Mkhwanazi’s Robben Island Series
    and the Weekly Mail

    Bryan Trabold

    Part 2
    Fully Inside? The Challenges of ‘Immersion’ Reporting

    4. Writing from the Inside: First-Person Reportage of Prison Life by the Incarcerated

    Rachael Hanel

    5. The Sorry Places: Cristina Rathbone’s A World Apart

    Christopher P. Wilson

    6. The Architecture of Immersive Writing: Sites of (Self-)Scrutiny in Ted Conover’s Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

    Harriet Hustis

    7. The Hot House: Reporting and Writing Strategies to Navigate Deep Immersion

    David Swick

    Part 3
    Breaking Out: Exploring Diverse Definitions for Literary Journalism

    8. Dialogues with Death: Fact, Fiction and the Many Adaptations of Arthur Koestler’s Prison Narrative

    Kate McQueen

    9. George Orwell: Making Writing on Prisons ‘An Art’

    Richard Lance Keeble

    10. Ear Hustle: Connecting to Prison Life Through a Narrative Podcast

    Dawn K. Cecil

    11. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Reportorial Story Songs’ – Grace and Kinship on Death Row

    Brian Conniff

    Afterword: Journalists’ Many Creative Ways of Covering the Correctional System

    Nancy L. Roberts


    David Swick is Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Canada. He teaches courses to both undergraduate and master’s students, including magazine features, opinion writing, and literary journalism. Before moving into teaching, Swick was an award-winning journalist. His growing body of work includes dozens of magazine articles, hour-long documentaries for CBC Radio, scripts for TV documentaries, nearly 1,800 newspaper columns, and one non-fiction book. He has co-edited two international anthologies of humour in journalism, The Pleasures of the Prose (2015) and The Funniest Pages – International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism (2016).

    Richard Lance Keeble is Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln and Honorary Professor at Liverpool Hope University. He has written and edited 49 books on a range of subjects including literary journalism, practical newspaper reporting skills, media ethics, George Orwell, peace journalism, the coverage of US/UK militarism and the secret state, investigative journalism, the Hackgate controversy and digital journalism. He gained a National Teaching Fellowship in 2011 – the highest award for teachers in higher education in the UK – and in 2014 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Journalism Education. From 2013 to 2020 he was chair of the Orwell Society.

    This much needed, timely collection engages with prison writing in a radically new way. At a time when civil liberties are increasingly at peril and democratic freedoms are under threat, the diversity of authors presented, the variety of texts studied, and the range of methods showcased reveal the deep commitment and manifest strike force of literary journalism.

    As the editors rightly argue, immersion is key to the genre. Literary journalism allows for innovative approaches and original insights, not only by incarcerated people but by journalists skilled at overcoming obstacles.

    The editors’ tour de force lies in presenting chapters focusing on both well-known – Mandela, Boochani, Koestler, Orwell, Conover – and unexpected case studies. Together, they convincingly make the case that literary journalism is an excellent genre to tell inspirational stories of courage and resilience.

    Isabelle Meuret, Associate Professor, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

    This remarkable book of scholarship examines the unique power of literary journalism across the globe to illuminate one of life’s darkest experiences. It explores questions pivotal to the field of literary journalism studies and our emerging understanding of prison life.

    These include… what might immersion reporting reveal when the writer is incarcerated? How can journalists from “outside” navigate the tensions between prisoners’ values and their own? How can literary journalism about prison enrich and be enriched by other storytelling genres: memoir, letters, oral histories, audio narratives, encrypted digital messages, even songwriting? And how can anyone — reporter or subject — write without restraint about a world of restraints?

    Lisa Phillips, Associate Professor, Digital Media and Journalism, State University of New York, New Paltz, NY, USA