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Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters) Paperback – February 3, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Any book that can give voice to the voiceless should be celebrated. No one feels this more strongly than Wally Lamb, editor of Couldn't Keep It to Myself, a collection of stories by 11 women imprisoned in the York Correctional Institution in Connecticut. Teacher and novelist Lamb was invited to head a writing workshop at York Correctional Institution in 1999. His somewhat reluctant acceptance soon turned into steadfast advocacy once the women in his charge began to tell their stories. Lamb maintains that there are things we need to know about prison and prisoners: "There are misconceptions to be abandoned, biases to be dropped." However, as heartfelt as his appeal is, nothing speaks more convincingly in this book than the stories themselves.

Those collected here are disturbing and horrific. They reveal, often in graphic detail, the worst kind of abuse: incest, drug addiction, spousal violence, parental neglect, or incompetence. They're also testimony to what social workers and health care professionals have confirmed for years--that those who populate our prisons are often victims first themselves. Thus, the telling of these stories serves as a form of therapy. They are also sad accounts of the brutalities many suffer, yet few discuss: "One day I figured out a dying little girl lived inside of me, so I threw her a lifeline in the form of paper and pen." Considering the degradation the contributors have experienced both in and outside prison, the courage, candor, and honesty with which they speak truly make these stories, as difficult as they are to read, "victories against voicelessness--miracles in print." --Silvana Tropea --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bestselling author and Oprah Winfrey favorite Lamb (She's Come Undone; I Know This Much Is True) takes a cue from Winfrey herself in collecting and editing this book of writings gleaned from a workshop he conducted for the female inmates of Connecticut's York Correctional Institution. The result is an intriguing and powerful collection of unlikely literary debuts. Although the 11 selections cover the range one might expect from writings plucked from a women's prison-tales of broken homes, poverty, violence, teenage pregnancy, race and gender bias, and, of course, crime and punishment-Lamb succeeds in giving the collection an intense, recognizable emotional core reminiscent of his blockbuster debut novel, She's Come Undone. Indeed, each selection bears the marks of Lamb's heavy involvement-the clipped yet elegant prose and the delicate, occasionally humorous manner in which difficult emotional situations are rendered. Standout selections include Nancy Whiteley's opening remembrance of her troubled adolescence and Diane Bartholomew's artfully rendered, heart-wrenching "Snapshots of My Early Life." As a sad footnote, Bartholomew, whom Lamb credits with inspiring the success of the workshop, will never see her opus in print. Sent to prison in 1990 for murdering her abusive husband, Bartholomew was stricken with cancer while serving her sentence and died in November 2001. In his introduction, Lamb calls the workshop "a journey rich with laughter, tears, [and] heart-stopping leaps of faith." To the credit of Lamb and his authors, this book, the end product of the workshop, is as well.-- heart-stopping leaps of faith." To the credit of Lamb and his authors, this book, the end product of the workshop, is as well.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006059537X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060595371
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Wally Lamb's first two novels, She's Come Undone (Simon & Schuster/Pocket, 1992) and I Know This Much Is True (HarperCollins/ReganBooks, 1998), were # 1 New York Times bestsellers, New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and featured titles of Oprah's Book Club. I Know This Much Is True was a Book of the Month Club main selection and the June 1999 featured selection of the Bertelsman Book Club, the national book club of Germany. Between them, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True have been translated into eighteen languages. Lamb is also the editor of the nonfiction anthologies Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters (HarperCollins/ReganBooks, 2003) and I'll Fly Away (HarperCollins, 2007), collections of autobiographical essays which evolved from a writing workshop Lamb facilitates at Connecticut's York Correctional Institute, a maximum-security prison for women. He has served as a Connecticut Department of Corrections volunteer from 1999 to the present. Wally Lamb is a Connecticut native who holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees in teaching from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Vermont College. Lamb was in the ninth year of his twenty-five-year career as a high school English teacher at his alma mater, the Norwich Free Academy, when he began to write fiction in 1981. He has also taught writing at the University of Connecticut, where he directed the English Department's creative writing program. Wally Lamb has said of his fiction, "Although my characters' lives don't much resemble my own, what we share is that we are imperfect people seeking to become better people. I write fiction so that I can move beyond the boundaries and limitations of my own experiences and better understand the lives of others. That's also why I teach. As challenging as it sometimes is to balance the two vocations, writing and teaching are, for me, intertwined." Honors for Wally Lamb include: the Connecticut Center for the Book's Lifetime Achievement Award, the Connecticut Bar Association's Distinguished Public Service Award, the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the Connecticut Governor's Arts Award, The National Institute of Business/Apple Computers "Thanks to Teachers" Award. Lamb has received Distinguished Alumni awards from Vermont College and the University of Connecticut. He was the 1999 recipient of the New England Book Award for fiction. I Know This Much Is True won the Friends of the Library USA Readers' Choice Award for best novel of 1998, the result of a national poll, and the Kenneth Johnson Memorial Book Award, which honored the novel's contribution to the anti-stigmatization of mental illness. She's Come Undone was a 1992 "Top Ten" Book of the Year selection in People magazine and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Best First Novel of 1992. Wally Lamb's third novel, The Hour I First Believed, explores chaos theory by interfacing several generations of a fictional Connecticut family with such nonfictional American events as the Civil War, the Columbine High School shootings of 1999, the Iraq War, and Hurricane Katrina. The book will be published by HarperCollins in November of 2008.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

141 of 144 people found the following review helpful By ell-jae on January 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a reader interested in women's issues I expected to like this book, but I did not expect to be completely captivated and overcome by it, which is what actually happened. It is presented in such a compelling way you become absorbed by each inmate's story and exeriences. It is at the same time heart wrenching and informative. Some common threads run through the individual stories yet each is so unique you feel the pain of each individual story. Photographs of each writer, both past and present, help to make you feel a connection. I gained insight into cultures and lifestyles I knew nothing about and saw a part of life so realistically described that I felt I had been there myself. Wally Lamb did an extraordinary job putting this project together and the result is a book that I feel will benefit everyone and should be read by all.
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127 of 132 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book has already caused a stir for all the wrong reasons. Various victims' rights groups have taken issue with this book for the following reasons: (a) that Wally Lamb would devote his time to, of all things, a group of criminals; and (b) that the stories in this book humanize their writers rather than focuses on the victims of their crimes. It is undisputed that the women who wrote these memoirs did a variety of illegal, immoral and awful things. However, if you read these stories, you will begin to wonder who the victims really are.
The women's stories are uniformly heartbreaking; nearly all the authors were victims of sexual abuse. Nearly all grew up poor. Nearly all had minimal or questionable parental support. And about half wrote about abusive romantic relationships. Several of the authors are in prison for killing their abusive spouse and/or significant other. While it was wrong for them to take their husband's lives, it is also understandable once you read their harrowing tales.
I was especially moved by Bonnie Foreshaw's "Faith, Power and Pants" and Diane Bartholomew's "Snapshots of my former life." Both went from unbearable childhoods to atrocious marriages. Both are clearly angry with a system that has failed them. Yet both write of finding hope despite all the indignities life has thrown at them. As a final indignity, Bartholomew developed cancer while writing her memoir. Only then was she paroled for the murder of her abusive husband. It is clear that she was only paroled because the State of Connecticutt did not want to pay her chemotherapy bills.
This book can be harrowing to read but it left me with a sense of hope. Beautiful women exist underneath the prison fatigues, who have survived despite the brutal conditions of the penitentiary system. Each story in this collection moved me in a different way. I can say that about very few books.
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82 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Marge B. on January 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book so I could read what a woman from my own community wrote. I expected to get through only her story the night I brought the book home with me. I'd already read other writings of hers, so I figured this woman's story would be a good read, which it was. After reading that one story, however, I read Mr. Lamb's intro - then I just couldn't stop reading. I read the entire book in one sitting!
In the past, especially being a social worker, I've read many stories about every possible life situation, but I have never read anything like this book. By the end of each story I felt a real sense of kinship and sisterhood with that story's author. I find it impossible to choose which is the most thought-provoking or well-written.
If this book is typical of Wally Lamb's ability to teach and to give of his heart, then I believe he is not only brilliant but the kind of mentor other incarcerated people need working with them. Thank goodness they couldn't keep it to themselves!
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Maggie Riley on March 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Consider me a reader who was curious about the "public outcry" against publication of this book. I'm not sure what book was read prior to various comments and judgements being made public, through the press, but I don't think I read the same book.
What I read was a collection of powerful stories written about life experiences prior to criminal behavior forming, of lessons learned, responsibility taken, sadness, remorse, and plans for living differently in the future. I read stories of hope, despite tragic past errors.
Reading this book caused me to think about things I don't often think about. I now realize that anyone who has ever driven under the influence of alcohol, used a drug to numb emotional pain, or been involved in an abusive relationship should not judge because they might easily end up with some of the same problems, actions, and consequences; this would include many of my friends and myself as well.
It took a great deal of willingness, courage and hard work to delve so deeply into painful issues, then to expose the most intimate details of their explorations to each other and also to the reading public. Perhaps some non-incarcerated individuals will read this book and think about working up the same courage and willingness to take action concerning their own situations before it becomes to late for them too.
One writer states: "Hope is a miracle that can become contageous." This woman has been out of prison for over a decade now and has fully turned her life around; she has walked away from an abusive marriage, graduated from college, and now works in the field of human services. She also is a tutor of college English for disadvantaged individuals. Kudos to Mr.
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