Ahead of his appearance at the London Penny Readings, we spoke to Erwin James about his new book Redeemable and his relationship with literature.
Wonderful news was announced at the end of last week as the ban on sending books to prisoners in England and Wales has been declared unlawful by the High Court.
Mr Justice Collins has removed the ban previously imposed earlier this year by the justice secretary Chris Grayling and has ordered the policy on what can be sent to prisoners to be amended, commenting that it was strange to treat books as a privilege when they may be essential to a prisoner’s self-development and rehabilitation.
The ban provoked an incredible reaction in opposition, leading to a petition and high-profile campaign garnering support from authors including Carol Ann Duffy, Salman Rushdie and Philip Pullman, who commented after the reversal of the decision that he was glad that reading has been seen as “a right and not a privilege”.
The Reader Organisation is delighted to hear the news, given our work sharing reading in prisons and criminal justice settings across the UK. For hundreds of prisoners each week, shared reading offers the chance to reflect, engaging with literature and connecting deeper to their own experiences.
“The connections and insights of a shared reading group are endless and some of those most in need of new connections and insights are prisoners. I myself have actually become more tolerant of people and value their opinions far more than I used to as I am constantly amazed by the depth of those insights which frequently resonate with me deeply.
I have benefited greatly from the emphasis upon great literature and have learnt more of what it is to be a human being, the role of emotions in myself and others, in fact the whole range of human experience in these finely crafted works than I have in half a dozen psychological ‘treatments’.” – A, a prisoner taking part in one of our regular shared reading group
Writer and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James spoke on BBC Radio 4 following the overturning of the ban discussing the importance of reading in prison and in particular talking about the difference books have made to his life: you can hear the clip here. In Issue 54 of The Reader, he wrote an essay about how he became a reader whilst in prison and how one book in particular gave him hope for the future. In the light of the news, it makes for an even more powerful read.
Recently Lord Faulks QC, Minister of State for Civil Justice & Legal Policy, visited one of our shared reading groups at the Psychologically Informed Planned Environment (PIPEs) in HMP Send. Shared reading has been integrated as part of daily life in seven PIPEs around the country. After his visit, Lord Faulks lent his support to shared reading within criminal justice settings:
“The Reader Organisation performs a vital function in the delivery of the PIPE objectives by engaging prisoners with literature and poetry which is both enjoyable and beneficial for them. I was very impressed with the library facilities at HMP Send particularly with the accessibility to books in all genres.”
Great news just in time for Christmas for prisoners across the country to receive the gift of reading and we continue to look forward to delivering more shared reading sessions in criminal justice settings in 2015.
Our extremely popular public reading event, based on a tradition made famous by Dickens, is coming to the Southbank Centre on Sunday 12th October as part of the London Literature Festival. This year’s festival concentrates on the themes of freedom, justice and democracy, celebrating the optimism of the human spirit and the ability of the arts to transform and change lives, and we will hear some of the greatest classic and contemporary literature that touches upon and celebrates the freedoms and struggles faced in human life.
Joining us for the London Penny Readings are special guest readers including writer, The Guardian columnist and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James and Frank Hewetson, one of Greenpeace’s ‘Arctic 30’ activists who was held in prison in Russia for protesting against oil exploration in 2013.
We will also be joined on the day by some of our shared reading group members from our London project, where we currently run a number of groups in a variety of community settings, and for whom literature has played a special role in helping to shape their lives:
“It’s been cathartic and touched things in me that I didn’t expect to be touched. In a very organic way. We are all from somewhere else, very different backgrounds and we’ve found something in common.” – shared reading group member, Southwark
Sticking to Dickensian traditions, entry into the event will cost no more than a penny on the day, but you can register now to guarantee your place for the evening: https://londonpennyreadings.eventbrite.co.uk
Stay tuned to the blog and our other social media channels for more exciting news about the London Penny Readings as we countdown to the date.
Find out more about the London Literature Festival, running from Tuesday 30th September to Monday 13th October, on the Southbank Centre website: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/london-literature-festival
When you’ve read your trusty copy of The Reader magazine cover to cover, are you often thirsting for more literary goodness? Perhaps there’s a poem, short story or feature article that has got you enthused and you want to say more about it?
Well now you can get even more from between the pages as we’re happy to announce that The Reader has gone online with a brand new blog dedicated to bringing readers even closer to quality literature and the wealth of thinking behind it.
Of course you’ll still be able to enjoy the pleasures of ink on paper – Issue 54 is hot off the press and physical copies can be ordered from The Reader Organisation’s website as well as in a selection of bookshops around the UK, including Waterstones Liverpool One – but now if you’ve read something that’s moved, vexed or roused you or you’re simply keen for more of the same, just a few clicks and it will all be at your fingertips.
A spirit of sharing has always been at the heart of The Reader since its first publication in 1997, and the blog gives the perfect opportunity to take that idea further. Online you’ll find a range of additional articles and features to enliven the print version of the magazine with further discussion and audio, though it is intended that the content will also stand alone for readers who prefer their reading in pixels.
The Reader blog is already brimming with topical content available for you to read at your leisure, and with a particular focus on the current hot issue of reading in prisons. Author and TRO patron Erwin James‘s powerful essay detailing the profound effect a book on French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus had on the state of his mind during his time in prison is available in full – and already gaining a remarkable response from readers online:
Following Erwin’s story – and the many other stories that say that reading really does make a difference to prisoners – contributors from Issue 54 including Shauneen Lambe, Sean Elliot and Margaret Drabble recommend the books they would give to a friend in prison exclusively for The Reader blog.
The blog is also where we’ll be building up an archive of poetry readings, our first additions coming from poet and regular Reader contributor Julie-ann Rowell reading two selections from her work.
So much to get you reading already, all to be found on www.thereadermagazine.co.uk
Don’t forget that you can delve into The Reader archives by purchasing your vintage copies from the website, as well as subscribing for your regular dose of Readerly goodness: www.thereader.org.uk/magazine