New piece on Curtis Dawkins, THE GREYBAR HOTEL, prison writing …

… separating the art from the artist, the State of Michigan’s penchant for cruel and dumb lawsuits, and a number of other things. It is at Commonweal.

Still, the existence of the book scandalizes some readers. Such is the conclusion we must draw, at least, from the lawsuit recently filed by the State of Michigan against Dawkins and his publishers, which seeks to reclaim his book’s royalties to recoup the cost of Dawkins’s incarceration. It should be noted that Michigan, like all other states, appropriates prisoners’ labor at sub-sub-minimum-wage levels for a variety of tasks to ends that nobody any longer seriously pretends are rehabilitative; sometimes in conditions such that, last year at Michigan’s Kinross Correctional Facility, inmates risked death to go on strike. It is just possible that Dawkins is earning his keep. Suits similar to the one filed by Michigan against Dawkins have been levied against imprisoned writers before—most famously, perhaps, in the case of a group of women writers at Connecticut’s York Prison taught and subsequently anthologized by the novelist Wally Lamb. After considerable heartache and expense, that suit was defeated. That Michigan’s government is risking the possibility of such a defeat, and using taxpayer money to do it, might raise one or two questions, especially when one considers that a major Michigan city has been without clean water for, at this writing, well over 1,300 days. One can only marvel at the intensity of the state’s devotion to protecting the readers of The Graybar Hotel from the possibility of moral complicity.

I wrote that in January. Flint’s water situation is still unresolved. Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed is the first and, to my knowledge, only such candidate to take a public stance against the Dawkins lawsuit, which is one of many, many reasons that he has my vote.

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