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by David Coogan

Detailing the formative and transformative memories of ten men, Writing Our Way Out is the creative culmination of a writing class that began in the Richmond City Jail in Virginia, and grew into a journey to re-entry. Compiled in a narrative by their teacher, Dr. David Coogan, these stories explore the conditions, traps, and turning points on the path to imprisonment in modern America, as well as the redemptive and rehabilitative power of memoir.

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Meet the Author

David Coogan is an associate professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he teaches courses in writing and literature. He is the founder and co-director of Open Minds, www.openminds.vcu.edu, a program that enables college students to take courses in the arts and humanities with men and women incarcerated at the Richmond City Justice Center, formerly the Richmond City Jail.

Press Kit


Formats: Paperback

Pages: 256

ISBN PB: 978-1-9399305-9-0

Release Date: 11/01/2015


“Candid, illuminating, and free of artifice. Does greater self-understanding lead to redemption? Does redemption inspire transformation? Does writing have the power to change lives? The men in David Coogan’s writing class—and Coogan himself—remind us that there are no simple answers to these questions, but it is hard to imagine that anyone, after reading this impassioned book, could doubt the value of the endeavor.” —Mark Salzman, bestselling author of Iron and Silk and author of True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall

“Their stories are powerful ones that will stay with you.” —Mike Rose, author of Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education

“The individuals come from all sides and directions. Coogan is brilliant in spacing them apart, bringing light and clarity and accessibility to the work. The literary rendition makes them human, susceptible, funny, sad, endearing, and annoying at times. Top literary stuff! This is what changes how we see the world. Bravo, Mr. Coogan!” —Jimmy Santiago Baca, author of the prison memoir A Place to Stand:  The Making of a Poet

“With intense scrutiny, cutting intelligence, and enormous heart, Dave Coogan gives us men who dream to be different from their sentences and heal themselves through the written word.” —Jean Trounstine, author of Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison and the forthcoming Boy With A Knife

“A stunning reminder of the way writing works to help set us free and, at the same time, to help connect us one to another. If writing is a way out, it is also a way into the depth of ourselves, and reading Coogan’s book, we acknowledge that such writing can lead to new beginnings.” —Robert Waxler, founder of Changing Lives Through Literature: An Alternative Sentencing Program, and author of The Risk of Reading: How Literature Helps Us to Understand Ourselves and Our World

“Dave Coogan has given of himself courageously in presenting the memoirs of several incarcerated men with his own emotional story. My relationships with teachers like Dr. Coogan helped me to grow as a writer and as a man, and to finally win parole from a life sentence.”  —Evans D. Hopkins, author of Life After Life: A Story of Rage and Redemption

“Explosive, crackling, compelling, fascinating. Coogan has ventured where academics, and Americans, fear to tread. The book reminds us to never ever write off another human being. Instead, let’s read what he has actually written—look deeply into his heart—and then our own.” —Drew Leader, author of The Soul Knows No Bars: Inmates Reflect on Life, Death, and Hope

“A remarkable journey into the soul of America in a time of growing segregation by race, class, and education. All are changed, including Coogan, who discovers the gritty, real-world underside of life in his own city, and a new respect for the hard-won insights, know-how, and sometimes eloquence of men a world removed.” —Harry Boyte, Senior Scholar in Public Work Philosophy, Augsburg College, and author of The Backyard Revolution and Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life

“This is a book that will urge you to pay attention, to wake from the oblivious daze engendered by TV crime shows and gated communities.” —Eli Goldblatt, author of Writing Home: A Literacy Autobiography

“These troubling, complex, and challenging accounts have the potential to teach us all something about what lies before and behind a prison sentence. And while writing is a radically insufficient tool for changing systemic inequality, if justice is our goal, these stories, and more like them, should be shared widely.” —Paula Mathieu, author of Tactics of Hope: The Public Turn in English Composition

“In the stories offered here, there are few heroes, many potential villains, and even characters who somehow seem both. These are stories worth listening to.” —Diana George, writing center director, Virginia Polytechnic University 

“Always powerful, sometimes funny, and regularly heart-breaking, Writing Our Way Out offers readers glimpses into one of the great dramas of contemporary American life: how the disenfranchised cope with hardship while struggling to create new selves and better communities.” —Stephen Hartnett, author of Working for Justice: A Handbook of Prison Education and Activism

“This book reads like an intellectual drama, a moving traveler’s guide in how to have [in Coogan’s words] “a life-affirming dialogue” across differences.” —Linda Flower, author of Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Public Engagement

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