On Tuesday 13 October, English PEN held a ‘Meet the Writer’ event in HMP Wandsworth. We took Canadian writer Ann Walmsley and her newly published book The Prison Book Club to sit down with 18 keen readers and a small group of men who make up Radio Wanno, the prison radio station (permitted to interview Ann for transmission to those unable to take part in this event).
But first things first, Ann read from her memoir about how her particular prison journey began: 13 years ago she lived in London, and one autumn evening she was attacked by two men and put in fear of her life. She suffered from traumatic stress disorder and eventually returned to Canada. A few years later, she was asked by a friend to suggest books for a prison reading group, before being invited inside to read. Ann’s book is a heartfelt account of her decision to ignore her fear and get to know this community of male prisoners. Through reading and choosing books as diverse as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Ann and the prisoners get to know one another and she finds empathy, sensitivity and astuteness within the richly described characters of The Prison Book Club.
The audience at HMP Wandsworth were hooked by Ann’s gentle reading and her stories of the men she met inside. Their shared joy in a good read resonated with the prisoners, who talked about their recent book choices and their own reading group.
Ann’s publisher Oneworld kindly donated copies of the book to the prisoners and they all left with a signed copy. A big thank you to Ann, Oneworld and the fantastic library team at HMP Wandsworth.
Read ‘The Prison Book Club comes full circle’ by Ann Walmsley on the PEN Atlas
Read Ann Walmsley: How the joy of reading can set you free in the Independent
Find out more about Ann’s book The Prison Book Club via Oneworld Publications UK