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Recent Publication Information for Megan Sweeney


Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons


Megan Sweeney
Faculty Info


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.

All recent publications by Megan Sweeney

  • The Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading
  • Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons

All publications by Megan Sweeney

“Reading Is My Window”: Books and the Art of Reading  in Women’s Prisons; University of North Carolina Press, 2010 
  • (Winner, 2011 Emily Toth Award for Best Single Work in Women's Studies)
  • (Winner, 2010 PASS Award from the National Council of Crime and Delinquency)
  • (Honorable Mention, 2011 Gloria E. Anzaldua Book Prize, National Women's Studies Association)
The Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading; University of Illinois Press, 2012

“The Rickety Bridge: Prisoners and Human Rights in the Literature Classroom.”  Teaching Human Rights in Literary and Cultural Studies.  Eds. Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg and Alexandra Schultheis.  New York: MLA, 2015.
“‘Keepin’it real’: Incarcerated Women’s Readings of African American Urban Fiction.”  From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century.  Ed. Anouk Lang.  University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

“Legal Brutality: Prisons and  Punishment, the American Way,” American Literary History 22.3 (Fall 2010): 698-713.
“‘I lived that book!’:  Reading Behind Bars.” Interrupted Life: The Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United StatesEd. Rickie Solinger.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.  180-87.

“Reading and Reckoning in a Women’s Prison.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 50.3 (2008): 304-328.  Special Issue on Detention.  Ed.  Phillip Barrish.

“Books as Bombs: Incendiary Reading Practices in Women’s Prisons.”  PMLA 123.3 (May 2008): 666-672.

Beard v. Banks: Deprivation as Rehabilitation.” PMLA 122.3 (May 2007): 779-783.

“‘Something Rogue’: Commensurability, Commodification, Crime, and Justice in Toni Morrison’s Later Fiction.”  Modern Fiction Studies 52.2 (Summer 2006): 440-469.

“Prison Narratives, Narrative Prisons: Incarcerated Women Reading Gayl Jones’s Eva’s Man.”  After the Pain: Critical Essays on Gayl Jones, Ed. Fiona  Mills and Keith Mitchell, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006. 173-202.

“Prison Narratives, Narrative Prisons:  Incarcerated Women Reading Gayl Jones’s Eva’s Man.”  Feminist Studies 30.2 (Summer 2004):  456-482.
  • (winner of 2003 Feminist Studies Award)
“Racial House, Big House, Home: Contemporary  Abolitionism in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.”  Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 4.2 (Spring 2004): 36-63.

“Living to Read True Crime: Theorizations from Prison.”  Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 25.1-2 (Winter/Spring 2003): 55-89.

“Provocations and Possibilities: Rethinking Prisoners’ Discourse” (Guest Editor’s Introduction). Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture 35.3-4 (Fall/Winter 2002): 393-405.

“Legally Blind: Seeking Alternative  Literacies From Prison.”  Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture  35.3-4 (Fall/Winter 2002): 599-624.

“Two Unpublished Letters from Lady Morgan to Richard Jones.”  English Language Notes 23.3 (1998): 40-52.

“To Succeed in Becoming Criminal Without Crime: The Algorithm of True Crime Texts.”  Symploke 6.1-2 (1998):  145-156.

Review: Fugitive Thought: Prison  Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice by Michael Hames-Garcia and Questionable  Charity: Gender, Humanitarianism, and Complicity in U.S. Literary Realism by William M. Morgan, American Literature 77.4 (December  2005): 864-867.

Review: Law, Crime and Sexuality: Essays in Feminism by Carol P. Smart, Crime, Law & Social Change 26.4 (1996): 385-388.

“Freedom for Me Was an Evolution, Not a Revolution.”   Race and Prison.  Eds. Curtis Stokes and Lynn O. Scott.  East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, forthcoming 2015.

“Mendings” (book manuscript)

“‘The Gardener Who Prepared the Soil’: Sadie Peterson Delaney and the Legacy of Arts-based Therapies for Veterans” (article)


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