The Prison Book Club
Winner of the 2016 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction. Longlisted for the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize and the 2016 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. On the National Post’s NP99 Best Books of the Year 2015
A journalist goes behind bars to explore the redemptive power of books with bikers, bank robbers, and gunmen.
A violent mugging in London left Ann Walmsley unable to walk alone down the street at night, and shook her belief in the fundamental goodness of people. A few years later, when a friend asked her to participate in a book club in a men’s medium-security prison, Walmsley had to weigh her curiosity and desire to be of service against her anxiety and fear.
But she signed on, and for eighteen months went to a remote building at Collins Bay Institution, meeting a group of heavily tattooed book club members without the presence of guards or security cameras. For the men, the books were rare prized possessions, and the meetings were an oasis of safety and a respite from isolation. As they discussed the obstacles the characters faced, they revealed glimpses of their own struggles. From The Grapes of Wrath to The Book of Negroes the book discussions became a springboard for frank conversations about loss, anger, redemption, and loneliness.
The Prison Book Club follows six of the book club members, who kept journals at Walmsley’s request and participated in candid one-on-one conversations. Graham the biker, Frank the gunman, Ben and Dread the drug dealers, and the robber duo Gaston and Peter come to life as the author reconciles her knowledge of their crimes with the individuals themselves, and follows their lives as they leave prison. The books changed the men and the men changed Walmsley.
Written with compassion and humour, The Prison Book Club is an eye-opening look at inmates and the penal system, and the possibilities of redemption.
“I loved this book! What a powerful testament to the magic of story-telling.”
~ Jeannette Walls, bestselling author of The Glass Castle, Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel and The Silver Star.
“The Prison Book Club explores the intriguing tension between the lives of incarcerated men and the liberating effects of reading great books. A terrific read that offers a glimpse into a world that is at once constricted yet capable of great emotional generosity.”
~ Steven Galloway, bestselling author of The Cellist of Sarajevo and The Confabulist
“A soulful exploration of men’s hearts and minds, The Prison Book Club offers a unique window into inmates’ lives. Funny and full of insight, Walmsley brings her best to the job at hand, winning us with tenderness. A wonderful read.”
~ Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of the bestselling Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol
- “… quietly captures the transformative power of literature in a tough place” ~ The Globe and Mail
- “…empathetic and insightful memoir…” ~ Quill and Quire
- “If you’ve ever wondered what violent criminals might think about The Grapes of Wrath, read on…and get ready to be incredibly moved.” ~ Elle Canada “15 Fall Must-Reads”
- “…a lively and warm account of her eighteen months in two prison book clubs…This book is a testament to what reading together can do in prison…Walmsley shows how reading and rehabilitation can go hand-in-hand.” ~ The Times Literary Supplement
- “A story of redemption and transcending the victim mentality.” ~ New York Post “This Week’s Must-Read Books”
- “…unprecedented access to the inmates” ~ The National Post “The NP99: The best books of the year”
- “An award-winning magazine journalist, Walmsley is scrupulous about facts.” ~ Winnipeg Free Press
- “If you have been in a book club, chances are you’ve read many of the books on the The Prison Book Club reading list. And that is part of the joy of this book.” ~ CBC News Manitoba
- “Enough to make you want to start your own little book club…” ~ Kobo.com
- “Walmsley’s account reveals the redemptive power of reading, with unexpected and morally acute insights from some of Canada’s most fierce criminals.” ~ The Lady
- “The most interesting aspect of The Prison Book Club is the books themselves and the ones the prisoners prefer.” ~ The Sydney Morning Herald
For some full reviews, interviews and Ann’s articles go to Media Page
Longlisted for the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize ~ Jury citation: “These twelve titles stand united in their outstanding literary quality. They represent the best in literary non-fiction published this year.” News release
Longlisted for the 2016 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction News release
Selected as one of 2015 National Post NP99 Best Books of the Year Article
Named among Book City Best Books of 2015 Article
UK & Commonwealth ~ Oneworld Publications (published Oct. 1 2015)
China ~ Shanghai Joint Publishing Company (forthcoming)
Japan ~ Kinokuniya Co., Ltd. (published August 2016)