Writers Who Wrote From Prison

Many of our favorite writers have penned their masterful works in unusual and exotic places. From the cafes of England and France to the comfortable interiors of their automobiles while in public places: we’ve heard of authors churning out some of their best work in places we never would have expected. Some particularly noteworthy works, though, were penned in a place that is often overlooked when it comes to literary locations; inside a prison. In fact, some of the books we love wouldn’t have been written if their authors hadn’t been incarcerated. 

Niccolo Machiavelli

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One of the most popular political works of all time was first conceived not in a court but in a jail. Niccolo Machiavelli was serving time behind bars after a shift in power in his native city of Florence. The people labeled him an “enemy of the state.” Those familiar with the ruthless ideals proposed in his work will not be surprised by this. After being released, Machiavelli was exiled from his homeland and it was there that he completed The Prince, a work that would make him famous for centuries. Many political figures throughout the ages have praised it, including the American founding fathers.

Mahatma Gandhi

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Prison can often serve as a place to reflect. Such was indeed the case for Mahatma Ghandi, who found himself behind bars many times during his long struggle to liberate the people of India from the rule of their British oppressors. During his time in prison, Ghandi often dedicated his time to perfecting his theories on things like civil disobedience, the very thing that had landed him there. While serving a sentence in 1932, Ghandi began work on his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

Malcolm Braly 

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California’s Folsom Prison and San Quentin are famous for hosting music legend Johnny Cash. They both also played host to author Malcolm Braly, though. Braly spent a total of almost 20 years in prison, during which time he completed several novels. His fourth work, On the Yard brought him the literary acclaim he had not yet achieved, but it proved highly controversial. Prison officials threatened to have Braly’s parol revoked when they learned that he penned a book about their institution. He completed the book in secret, though, and was never again incarcerated. 

Jean Genet

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Most of the world knowns French author Jean Genet for his work as a political activist, poet, and essayist. His early years as a thief and vagabond has not been as well documented.  During the 1930’s and 40’s, he was constantly in and out of prison for various offenses, often involving burglary, false papers, or other petty acts.  In was during one of these sentences, though, that Genet first took to writing. His noteworthy work Our Lady of the Flowers, was penned while he served a sentence for thievery in 1944. Although a guard at the prison tried to burn his first manuscript, Genet began writing again from the start. 

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One of the most controversial poetic works of the 20th century was written behind bars. Expatriate Ezra Pound had taken up residence in Italy during World War II when he expressed support for the fascist leaders of the day. Arrested for treason in 1945, Pound found himself incarcerated in a U.S. Military camp, where he continued writing poetry. Because the camp was located in Pisa, the series of poems he produced were titled The Pisan Cantos. These poems dealt with controversial topics, they were met with mixed acclaim, although some critics have hailed them as being incredible works of literature. 


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