Doing Time in College

Student-Prisoner Reading Groups and the Object(s) of Literary Study

in Critical Survey
Ed Wiltse Nazareth College

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Taking stock of ten years of a service learning project that brings together small groups of college students and prisoners in jailhouse classrooms to discuss literary representations of crime and punishment, this essay finds in project participants' reading journals some remarkable trends. Complex dynamics of authenticity and authority emerge in the groups' weekly meetings, as participants negotiate their own and their groups' identities and commitments with respect to each other and to the literary texts, in the absence of professors, corrections officers, or other guardians of discipline. These dynamics are investigated in light of participants' discussions of a range of works, before looking in greater detail at responses to Sherman Alexie's 1996 novel Indian Killer, which are found to complicate stable notions of pedagogical authority and the object(s) of literary study.

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