I will admit I'd been looking at today's pick on The Book Room shelf for weeks — first in proof copy and then the final hardcover version — and resisted pulling it down, but since I kept going back to it and wondering, I thought it was about time I picked it up and at least paged through it. What I discovered was a remarkable collection of stories.
I'll Fly Away: Further Testimonies From the Women of York Prison (Harper, 255 pagse, $25.95) is a book of stories written by women in the York Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Connecticut...
... It is the second such volume put together by Wally Lamb, who you might remember as the high school teacher who catapulted to new heights of literary fame when Oprah chose his novel, She's Come Undone, for her book club about 10 years ago.
If you've read She's Come Undone, you know Lamb has a keen ear for a troubled woman's voice. Perhaps that's what drew him to York, where he endeavored to give voice to real women with real-world hardships behind them.
"The statistics are alarming: 70 percent of incarcerated women have been the victims of incest and sexual violence," Lamb writes in the introduction to the book. "Some of the writers lost their nerve and left the program rather than reflect honestly about their lives, but the majority hunkered down, struggled their truths onto the page, and read them aloud, often in tears. Within the confines of the prison, their writing began to give them wings with which to hover above the confounding maze of their lives, and from that perspective they began to see the patterns and dead ends of their pasts, and a way out."
Frankly, I was expecting terrible writing — honest, maybe, but terrible. Not so. With Lamb's guidance, they've each found their voice, and the raw honesty is evident — even eloquent. One of the women even won a $25,000 prize upon Lamb's nomination for the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award.
I'm now looking forward to reading all the stories and possibly going back to read the first volume, Couldn't Keep It To Myself.