Hot off the press is Six Cubic Feet, a new story collection by San Quentin’s creative writing group. This anthology, the group’s fourth in its “Brothers in Pen” series, includes contributions by 18 authors and a foreword by novelist Junot Diaz.
Mirroring the diversity of its authors’ voices and storytelling styles, Six Cubic Feet encompasses works of memoir, poetry, fable, fantasy, allegory, magical realism, and autobiographical fiction. The authors crafted these pieces through a weekly workshop facilitated by Zoe Mullery. Since this workshop first began in 2000, the group has enjoyed visits by celebrated writers such as Diaz and Tobias Wolff.
The title Six Cubic Feet refers to the space allotted to each San Quentin prisoner for personal property. Thus, in the anthology’s opening pages, some of the authors riff on the tragic absurdity of living one’s life out of a box “the size of an infant’s coffin,” as Keoghan O’Donnell puts it.
“Six cubic feet means that I choose that which is most important, “Kenny Brydon writes, “and the rest–a life’s worth of memories and mementos–they must die.” In counter point, Arnulfo Garcia writes: “Six cubic feet can define your most precious values, but my writing goes beyond six cubic feet and sets me free.”
Through stories that are gritty and witty, tragic and sardonic, whimsical and heart-wrenching, Six Cubic Feet’s contributors embody both of these sentiments. Each author, by choosing to depict certain moments, spotlights what is important in his eyes. And each author, by writing in his distinct voice, affirms his capacity to express and his freedom of mind and spirit.
Some of the authors tell of spiritual milestones, family tragedies, or dreams gone awry. Others narrate personal or political watersheds in the lives of men and of movements. Others present moments that are special simply because they are suffused with love; still others impart pain and misfortune with impish humor or biting wit.
Several have followed their imagination beyond the prison, beyond present reality, and even beyond this planet. Their stories create vivid worlds where elves dwell, animals speak, and ethereal beings waft down from heaven to bless weary humans. Their narratives re-imagine historical conflicts and project us into alternate takes of humanity’s future.
Brothers in Pen held a free public event on Saturday, Sept. 17, at which the authors agreed to read excerpts of their work. Hard-copy and downloadable versions of Six Cubic Feet, as well as prior anthologies, can be purchased at http://stores.lulu.com/northblockpress and at http://brothersinpen.wordpress.com. All proceeds go to the William James Foundation, which supports the Art-in-Corrections program that makes Brothers in Pen possible.
-Kony Kim is a Patten University teacher and one of the editors for the Creative Writing Anthology.