Lez Liberty Lit: Against Prison Book Bans


Hi and welcome to this week’s Lez Liberty Lit!

“Limiting access to books is a punishment. Books represent vocational, educational, cultural, sexual, and philosophical freedom to incarcerated people living in prison.” Restricting books in prisons — because the Department of Corrections, despite lack of evidence, believes free books are used to get drugs into prisons, and more than that finds intellectual freedom a threat — will harm everyone, argues Holly Genovese at Electric Literature:

“The participants in a writing workshop at S.C.I Graterford published an anthology of writing called Letters to My Younger Self: An Anthology of Writings by Incarcerated Men at S.C.I Graterford. Mumia Abu Jamal, well known for his books including Life From Death Row, has been incarcerated in Pennsylvania since 1982. By limiting access to reading material for incarcerated people, this kind of engaged writing and journalism from those incarcerated would not be possible. These texts are creative, introspective, and theorize incarceration and criminal justice in the United States. They also follow in a tradition of prison intellectualism and writing, particularly important in the black radical tradition in the United States. Writers and intellectuals like Angela Davis, George Jackson, and Assata Shakur benefitted from the availability of books in prison to create their work, work essential to the African American freedom struggle writ large. The nation as a whole will suffer for the loss of beautiful, insightful, and often activist contributions by incarcerated people.”

“So much of the criticism of women’s writing is explicitly personal – the words on the page aren’t always the only thing reviewed – the author’s mothering, her sexual experiences, her emotional responses all come under ‘literary’ scrutiny,” writes Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett at the Guardian on what exposure means for women writers.

There is no greater cosmic crime than devaluing a woman’s intelligence.”

You can read an excerpt of Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval.

Here’s what happens when you wreck a library book.

“Words are the foundation of magic,” writes Meredith Graves at the Creative Independent on Hole lyrics, #metoo and songwriting.

The best time to write is when you have no time to write, writes Jessie Greengrass at Lit Hub:

“Without set hours, without external demands on my time, while I might seem more free, I think it would be at the expense of everything, because I would get nothing done at all. I would drift, and wait, and time would pass, and I would feel, increasingly, as though I had failed. Besides, I love the pattern days have, the way they turn.”

Read these new books this November. Read these books for beginner feminists. Read these three witchy poems. Read these classic feminist books. Read these new books by women. Read these women horror writers of color. Read these memoirs about trauma recovery. Raad these books published posthumously. Read these books to combat impostor syndrome. Read these books by Egyptian writers. Read these modern Victorian novels.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Good links!! If you’re interested in getting more books into the hands of ppl incarcerated in US prisons, check out https://chicagobwp.org/ . Chicago Books to Women in Prison is a rad org, I used to volunteer for them ❤️

  2. I intentionally defaced a library book for the first time in my life last week – correcting misgendering and adding a note on the margins about respect in red.

    I’m not sorry.

  3. As a queer in PA who has been organizing against the new DOC policies, I really appreciate you including this. The state recently did lift the ban on donated books but they are still not allowing people to receive mail directly, only printed copies of scanned letters and cards and photos, which sucks. Folks can check out decarcerate PA.info for more info on fighting these policies.

  4. I’ve definitely accidentally damaged a library book or two in my lifetime. But, if you use an e-reader, you never have to worry about damaging a library book!

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