Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Ranen Omer-Sherman

Second Committee Member

Donette Francis

Third Committee Member

David Ikard

Fourth Committee Member

Michael Hames-Garcia


This project looks at the prison narrative as an important sub-genre of contemporary American autobiography, one that reclaims the margin as a space for counter-hegemonic subversion and highlights criminality as a social construct. Comparatively studying Assata Shakur’s Assata: An Autobiography (1987), Leonard Peltier’s Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance (1999), and Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand (2001), I consider how these works manipulate the literary representation of imprisonment to establish a correlation between space and power, and to transform physical, mental, and spiritual confinement into a source of autonomy. I also examine how these works negotiate spatiality in terms of oppression and resistance, while underscoring the broader social connection between criminality and identity. By comparatively reading African-American, Native American, and Latino narratives written from or about prison, I explore how these texts shed light on the racialized criminalization of the American underclasses, while also complicating “freedom” as a literary paradigm. I argue that these writers change the geography of their life stories by transforming spaces of punishment and confinement into what bell hooks calls “sites of radical possibility.”


Prison; US Prison; Prison Literature; American Literature; American Studies