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Playlist: KUGS Bellingham, Wash.'s Portfolio

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Prison Poetry Workshop (Series)

Produced by Working Narratives

Most recent piece in this series:

PPW - Indiana: Etheridge Knight

From Working Narratives | Part of the Prison Poetry Workshop series | 54:09

Etheridge-knight_small Prison Poetry Workshop 
Indiana: Etheridge Knight

Host: Rend Smith 
Producer: Andrew Parsons and Nick Szuberla 

Segment - A: Early Days
Knight spent his boyhood days on a farm in Corinth Mississippi. There, he lived the idyllic life, working and playing alongside a large brood of brothers and sisters, we learn from Knight’s surviving siblings. But he also pined for adventure, stealing off  to rowdy pool halls whenever he had the chance.  In such establishments, Knight would’ve found men “telling toasts” (performing memorized, African-American folk poems), a skill he picked up and mastered. By 16, Knight was off on a more fraught adventure, as he enlisted to fight in the Korean war.


Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd),  

Returning from the war, Knight began what he called his “mad years.”  We hear about how, having picked up a heroin addiction in the army, the veteran found himself  in and out of trouble with police.  In 1960, Knight was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 10-25 years in prison. While behind bars, his love for telling toasts grew into a general appreciation for poetry. Knight wrote prolifically, was discovered by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and released not long after he published his first book.  Former Michigan poet laureate Norbert Krapf considers Knight’s story inspirational, and crafts a writing exercise for listeners based on a poem dedicated to him.


We meet Dwayne Betts. If Etheridge Knight has a young literary heir, it might be him. Betts went to prison at 16 after being convicted of carjacking, but has since launched a successful writing career. He, like some other poets we hear from, credits Knight as a strong influence. We also meet Francis Stoller, who spent time with the poet during his last days. “I will write well. I will be a famous writer. I will work hard and my work will be good. I will be a famous writer. My voice will be heard and I will help my people,” Knight once wrote. The voices we hear prove he succeeded.


Broadcast Window Begins 01/13/14

The First Season of Prison Poetry Workshop will be available beginning January 13, 2014, on PRX without charge to all public radio stations, and may be aired an unlimited number of times prior to January 13, 2015. The program may be streamed live on station websites but not archived. Excerpting is permitted for promotional purposes only.

Prison Poetry Workshop is produced by Nick Szuberla and Andrew Parsons, with host Rend Smith.  Visit www.prisonpoetryworkshop.org for useful tools and ways to get your audience involved.  Major funding for PPW is from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Contact Nick Szuberla for more information: nick@workingnarratives.org