Some years ago, I received a query from a writer who had written a book about dead girls. I knew we were made for each other. Even though I couldn’t find a publisher for the book, Mikita Brottman continued to write and write and write. It’s not that rejection doesn’t bother her, but nothing stops her. She has to write. Sometimes I think the world exists so that she can write about it.
Now, she has produced a book I am so excited about: The Maximum Security Book Club. It’s about her experience running a book group in a men’s prison. It’s not about life lessons or how literature will save your life. Instead, Mikita brings us inside the prison and lets us get to know these men as individuals; they struggle with most of the books (Macbeth, Lolita, and Heart of Darkness to name a few); that struggle animates the chapters and illuminates their lives. You cannot help but look at each book anew and that is a bit of a miracle.
Here is a brief interview with Mikita:
Can you tell us how you chose the books for the club?
I didn’t sit down and plan carefully in advance. I just chose some of my favorite books – the ones I most wanted to think about and talk about. I didn’t think about whether they were suitable, or accessible, or appropriate. I didn’t want to pander or patronize.
Do you think literature has the power to change lives in 25 words or less?
Yes, but not in ways that are obvious, immediate, discernible, or even necessarily for the better.
What is your favorite prison movie?
I Want to Live!
You never seem frightened or threatened in the book club; can you say something about that?
The men were always calm, polite, and respectful. Most of them hadn’t committed an act of violence for 20 or 30 years. And the book club was the highlight of their week. None of them would have risked losing it, or the other volunteer programs, which are their only contact with the outside world.
Is the killer inside you?
Only in faculty meetings.
Dear Readers: what book would you teach in a prison??
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