Reading Is My Window

Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons

By Megan Sweeney

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 illus., 4 figs., 3 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7100-3
    Published: February 2010
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9835-2
    Published: February 2010

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Awards & distinctions

2011 Honorable Mention, Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize, National Women's Studies Association

2011 Emily Toth Award, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

2010 PASS Award, National Council on Crime and Delinquency

Drawing on extensive interviews with ninety-four women prisoners, Megan Sweeney examines how incarcerated women use available reading materials to come to terms with their pasts, negotiate their present experiences, and reach toward different futures.

Foregrounding the voices of African American women, Sweeney analyzes how prisoners read three popular genres: narratives of victimization, urban crime fiction, and self-help books. She outlines the history of reading and education in U.S. prisons, highlighting how the increasing dehumanization of prisoners has resulted in diminished prison libraries and restricted opportunities for reading. Although penal officials have sometimes endorsed reading as a means to control prisoners, Sweeney illuminates the resourceful ways in which prisoners educate and empower themselves through reading. Given the scarcity of counseling and education in prisons, women use books to make meaning from their experiences, to gain guidance and support, to experiment with new ways of being, and to maintain connections with the world.

About the Author

Megan Sweeney is assistant professor of English and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
For more information about Megan Sweeney, visit the Author Page.


“One of the strengths of the book is Sweeney’s desire and ability to listen and to be transformed through the listening. . . .A necessary and unique contribution.”--Fellowship magazine

"Putting bias aside, Sweeney listens carefully while women explain what the books . . . mean to them."--The Christian Century

"An interesting and provocative read. . . . Serves as a call to action."--Feminist Review

"This important book represents a significant contribution to interdisciplinary research focused on women prisoners' reading habits and attempts at self-education and improvement."--Library Journal

"Riveting. . . . Reading is My Window is not just a stellar example of the history and ethnography of reading--though it is that. It is also a point of entry into a world with which many Americans have no direct contact. . . . This book represents terrifically important scholarship and compelling, passionate activism, and it deserves a wide readership among people who care about books, and people who care about racism, political economy, justice, social change, and citizenship in the United States."--Books & Culture

"Break[s] significant new ground. . . . A most original scholarly work. . . . [Sweeney's] research method and analysis are meticulous; the book is enlivened by the frank and often surprising remarks of her subjects."--Women's Review of Books