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Words without Walls

Writers on Addiction, Violence, and Incarceration

Sarah Shotland (editor), Sheryl St. Germain (editor)

More than seventy-five poems, essays, stories, and scripts by contemporary writers provide inspiration for students in writing workshops in prisons, rehabilitation centers, and other alternative learning environments

Writing workshops in prisons and rehabilitation centers have proven time and again to be transformative and empowering for people in need. Halfway houses, hospitals, and shelters are all fertile ground for healing through the imagination and can often mean the difference for inmates and patients between just simply surviving and truly thriving. It is in these settings that teachers and their students need reading that nourishes the soul and challenges the spirit. 

Words without Walls is an anthology of more than seventy-five poems, essays, stories, and scripts by contemporary writers that provide models for successful writing, offering voices and styles that will inspire students in alternative spaces on their own creative exploration. Created by the founders of the award-winning program of the same name based at Chatham University, the anthology strives to challenge readers to reach beyond their own circumstances and begin to write from the heart. Each selection expresses immediacywriting that captures the imagination and conveys intimacy on the pagerevealing the power of words to cut to the quick and unfold the truth. Many of the pieces are brief, allowing for reading and discussion in the classroom, and provide a wide range of content and genre, touching on themes common to communities in need: addiction and alcoholism, family, love and sex, pain and hope, prison, recovery, and violence.

These inspirational pieces act as models for beginning writers and offer a vehicle to examine their own painful experiences. Words without Walls demonstrates the power of language to connect people; to reflect on the past and reimagine the future; to confront complicated truths; and to gain solace from pain and regret.


  • Dorothy Allison
  • John Amen
  • Jen Ashburn
  • Jimmy Santiago Baca
  • R. Dwayne Betts
  • Roger Bonair-Agard
  • Greg Bottoms
  • Gwendolyn Brooks
  • James Brown
  • Bonnie Jo Campbell
  • Claire Chafee
  • Christopher Davis
  • Toi Derricotte
  • Natalia Diaz
  • Mark Doty
  • Eve Ensler
  • Nick Flynn
  • Maureen Gibbon
  • Stephon Hayes
  • Terrance Hayes
  • Marie Howe
  • Tyehimba Jess
  • Allison Joseph
  • Natalia Kenvin
  • Jessica Kinnison
  • Etheridge Knight
  • Ken Lamberton
  • Joan Larkin
  • Tracy Letts
  • Terra Lynn
  • Ann Marlowe
  • Heather McNaugher
  • W.S. Merwin
  • Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Tim O'Brien
  • Sharon Olds
  • Gregory Orr
  • ZZ Packer
  • Anna Quindlen
  • Sara Ries
  • Scott Russell
  • Ramona Lofton
  • Tim Seibles
  • Christine Stroud
  • Rhett Iseman
  • MerSiha Tuzlic
  • Paula Vogel
  • Derek Walcott
  • Jesmyn Ward
  • Bruce Weigl
  • John Edgar Wideman
  • August Wilson
  • Monica Wood
  • Franz Wright
  • Gary Young
  • Sheryl St. Germain
  • Eric Boyd
  • Sarah Shotland


    “Sit down, turn off the phone, and prepare for a stunning, if difficult, read. . . Reading this book is to read the most intimate, often horrifying, stories that humans can survive to tell.”

    Publishers Weekly

    “I’d strongly suggest that anyone teaching such a course at either a shelter or a prison, invest in a copy of Words Without Walls: Writers on Addiction, Violence and Incarceration.”

    Julie Batten, director of the Glass House Shelter Project

    Words without Walls cover
    • Price: $19.95 buy »
    • Pages: 288
    • Size: 6 x 9
    • Published: Apr 2015
    • Status: Available
    • ISBN: 9781595342553
    • Price: $19.95 buy »
    • Published: Apr 2015
    • Status: Available
    • ISBN: 9781595342560


    Writers / Writing, Anthology, Literature