Reading is my window : books and the art of reading in women's prisons / Megan Sweeney.

by Sweeney, Megan, 1967-Looking glass.

Publisher: Chapel Hill, N.C. : University of North Carolina Press, [2010]Description: xvi, 332 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.ISBN: 9780807871003; 0807871001.Subject(s): Women prisoners -- United States -- Books and reading | Books and reading | African American women -- Books and readingLooking glass | African American women -- Study and teaching (Higher)Note: Bibliography: pages 305-323. - Includes index.
Item type Home library Collection Class number Status Date due Barcode Item reservations
Long loan London College of Communication
Main collection
Printed books 028.082 SWE (Browse shelf (Opens below)) Available 54127259
Total reservations: 0

Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

Drawing on extensive interviews with ninety-four women prisoners, Megan Sweeney examines how incarcerated women use available reading materials to come to terms with their pasts, negotiate their present experiences, and reach toward different futures.

Foregrounding the voices of African American women, Sweeney analyzes how prisoners read three popular genres: narratives of victimization, urban crime fiction, and self-help books. She outlines the history of reading and education in U.S. prisons, highlighting how the increasing dehumanization of prisoners has resulted in diminished prison libraries and restricted opportunities for reading. Although penal officials have sometimes endorsed reading as a means to control prisoners, Sweeney illuminates the resourceful ways in which prisoners educate and empower themselves through reading. Given the scarcity of counseling and education in prisons, women use books to make meaning from their experiences, to gain guidance and support, to experiment with new ways of being, and to maintain connections with the world.

Bibliography: pages 305-323. - Includes index.

Table of contents provided by Syndetics

  • Acknowledgments (p. xiii)
  • Introduction (p. 1)
  • 1 Tell Me What You Read; I Will Tell You What You Are: Reading and Education in U.S. Penal History (p. 19)
  • 2 The Underground Book Railroad: Material Dimensions of Reading (p. 54)
  • 3 Between a Politics of Pain and a Politics of Pain's Disavowal (p. 83)
  • Interlude 1 Denise: A Portrait (p. 129)
  • 4 Fear of Books: Reading Urban Fiction (p. 140)
  • 5 To Set the Captives Free: Self-Help Reading Practices (p. 173)
  • Interlude 2 Monique: A Portrait (p. 213)
  • 6 Encounters: The Meeting Ground of Books (p. 226)
  • Conclusion: This Really Isn't a Rehabilitation Place: Policy Considerations (p. 252)
  • Appendix: Study-Related Materials (p. 259)
  • Notes (p. 271)
  • Bibliography (p. 305)
  • Index (p. 325)

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

This important book represents a significant contribution to interdisciplinary research focused on women prisoners' reading habits and attempts at self-education and improvement. Sweeney (English and Afroamerican and African Studies, Univ. of Michigan) interviewed 94 women prisoners and collected data on their experiences reading behind bars. Along the way, she provides insight into the history of reading and education in the U.S. penal system, attitudes toward African American urban fiction, and the gender and race politics of corrections. She details how reading and library service can be used as instruments of control by prison authorities and how prisoners still manage to use reading as a tool for self-improvement. In-depth portraits of two women prisoners show the positive impact reading can have despite a lack of educational programs. VERDICT This book will be of interest to a broad range of academics and students, including those in sociology, criminal justice, education, women's studies, African American studies, and literature. There will also be a strong secondary audience among those interested in adult literacy, prisoner advocacy, or social justice issues.-Alison M. Lewis, Drexel Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Sweeney (English and Afro-American and African studies, Michigan) describes women prisoners' literary life based on interviews at three different prisons with 94, mostly African American, women. She extends the work of Elizabeth Long (Book Clubs, 2003) and Janice Radway (Reading the Romance, CH, May'85) by engaging recent investigations into women's prison culture, such as Jean Trounstine's Shakespeare behind Bars (2001) and Rena Fraden's Imagining Medea (CH, May'02, 39-5116). The book reveals how women prisoners obtain their reading matter, where they read, and how they interpret selected genres, including narratives of victimization, self-help and inspirational works, and African American urban fiction. Through the women's words, Sweeney reveals how the women negotiate prison rules to transform the books into material for self-growth. To respond to the work of theorists, most notably Michel Foucault, Sweeney shows how the women's hard-won literary life gives them escape from the mental confines of prison as they gain understanding of the larger culture and their relation to it. This book should hold more appeal to students of books and reading than to those of penology. In Sweeney's narrative, the autonomy and strength of prison women compel attention and respect. Summing Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries. L. L. Stevenson Franklin & Marshall College

Author notes provided by Syndetics

Megan Sweeney is assistant professor of English and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.