Award: Research & Development Grant

Discipline: Literary Arts

Project Collaborator(s):  

City/Town: Bisbee

Year: 2019

Artist Website:

These are voices that make readers think about mass incarceration in this country. They are my community of practice. The place-based community of the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.

Excerpt from Ken Lamberton’s R&D Grant application

Ken Lamberton’s grant will support the creation of an anthology of creative writing, both prose and poetry, from prisoners currently or formerly incarcerated in Arizona. Along with the volume’s poetry and prose, Lamberton will include interviews with former prisoners with questions that focus on the value of artistic practice for the incarcerated. The anthology’s introduction will be written by Lamberton’s mentor, Richard Shelton.

Since the 1970s, Shelton, an award-winning poet and writer, has offered creative writing workshops in Arizona’s federal and state correctional institutions. Lamberton, like many of the writers that will be featured in the new anthology, participated in Shelton’s workshops during his own incarceration. Twenty years after his release, Lamberton continues to work with Shelton, editing Rain Shadow Review, a journal of prisoners’ poetry and prose, and leading a weekly creative writing workshop he co-designed with Shelton for former prisoners and members of the local community.

A River Without Stones Cannot Sing: New Voices from Prison will draw from three decades of works generated through Shelton’s workshops. This rich pool includes works by such notables as Jimmy Santiago Baca, Michael Hogan, and William Aberg, but also lesser-known writers like Billy Sedlmayr, Joe Watson, and Ruben Martinez. Lamberton is also soliciting dozens of federal and state prisoners for new writing.

Lamberton’s own work will also be represented through essays and poetry drawn from his time behind bars, now removed and with the perspective of 30 years of artistic practice.

“How Nature Taught Me to Sing in Lockup,” is a recent essay I wrote about my experiences in prison almost 20 years ago. The essay is what inspired me to begin collecting other voices from prison, a collection drawn from the prison literary journals I edit with the poet Richard Shelton. This essay appeared in Rain Shadow Review, one of the prison journals I’m relying on for the anthology. The last line of the essay, “A river without stones cannot
sing,” will be the title of the anthology.

Ken Lamberton is the author of Wilderness and Razor Wire (Mercury House), which won the 2002 John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing.  He has published six books and hundreds of articles and essays in places like the Los Angeles Times, Orion, the Gettysburg Review, and The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000.  His latest book, Chasing Arizona (University of Arizona Press) is a 2015 Southwest Book of the Year.  Lamberton holds degrees in biology and creative writing and lives with his wife in an 1890s stone cottage on the old mule road near Bisbee where he spends his days fixing the plumbing.