Sep 21, 2023 - News

Prison writing prize offered up in Austin

Illustration of two fountain pens facing off against an abstract pop of color.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

When the literary Insider Prize winners are announced Thursday at Huston-Tillotson University, they won't be present to accept their awards.

That's because the prize, which recognizes excellence in fiction and memoir writing, is open only to people incarcerated in Texas penitentiaries.

The big picture: The prize "gives incarcerated people an opportunity to dream through their words, to dream beyond the walls," Tommy Mouton, an English professor at Huston-Tillotson, tells Axios.

  • "It's such a powerful way to push the notion of equity and empathy and giving grace."

How it works: The contest, organized by Austin-based literary magazine American Short Fiction, was judged by Nickolas Butler, author of "Shotgun Lovesongs" and "Godspeed."

  • Previous Insider Prize contests have been judged by Lauren Hough, Joyce Carol Oates and other writers.

Why it matters: The Insider Prize submissions were "written from within prison walls but also from within human hearts and minds. All stories dream of release, to find a reader; these are no different," Adam Soto, an American Short Fiction editor who oversees the contest, tells Axios.

  • "For the interested reader and writer, the Insider Prize provides a small but meaningful moment of shared experience—of our shaken, complex and difficult but permanent humanity," Soto says.

What they're saying: In his own experience teaching writing in jails in California, Mouton found his students to be "extremely knowledgeable, well-read and really gifted writers."

  • "We write to better understand our worth," Mouton says.

Zoom out: The Insider Prize is one of several around the country recognizing literary work by incarcerated people.

If you go: The program will feature live readings of the award-winning work from students and community members.

  • The event starts at 6pm at the Davage-Durden Student Union at the Huston-Tillotson campus, at 900 Chicon St., and is free and open to the public.
  • Free parking is available at a lot on Chalmers Avenue, by the intersection with East Eighth Street.

Full disclosure: Reporter Asher Price's wife is an editor of American Short Fiction.


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