The literature of executions
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Demands of the Dead: Executions, Storytelling, and Activism in the United States, edited by Katy Ryan, is now available from the University of Iowa Press.
The first work to combine literary criticism with other forms of death penalty–abolitionist writing, Demands of the Dead demonstrates the active importance of literature and literary criticism to the struggle for greater justice in the United States.
Gathering personal essays, scholarly articles, and creative writings on the death penalty in American culture, this collection brings human voices and literary perspectives to a subject that is often overburdened by statistics and angry polemics. Contributors include death-row prisoners, playwrights, poets, activists, and literary scholars.
Writers are a conspicuous part of U.S. death-penalty history, composing a vibrant literary record of resistance to state killing. This multigenre collection both recalls and contributes to this tradition through discussions of writers including Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Gertrude Atherton, Ernest Gaines, Sonia Sanchez, Kia Corthron, and Sherman Alexie.
Sister Helen Prejean wrote, “Violence requires redeeming narratives. Demands of the Dead cuts through to the truth: the death penalty demeans and diminishes us. You will hear from prisoners, activists, scholars, playwrights, and poets. And you will want to do something."
Ryan, who teaches at West Virginia University, is the founder of the Appalachian Prison Book Project, a community and student organization that sends free books to women and men in prison. Her writing appears in American Literature, African American Review, Philosophy and Literature, Studies in the Novel, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, and the collection Political and Protest Theatre After 9/11: Patriotic Dissent.