Smith, A. (2011) Prison stories and what they mean. Paper presented to: Joint Conference of the National Popular Culture & American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) and the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture & American Culture Association (SWTX PCA/ACA), San Antonio, Texas, 20 - 23 April 2011.
The paper I proposed for this conference developed the theme of how we might derive knowledge from sources which are inherently unreliable. I set out not to reach conclusions but to challenge assumptions. I presented myself as the maker of primary texts both in fiction and journalism and suggested some of the forces at work to shape original material before it becomes apart of the public domain. I illustrated this point by telling two prison stories and commenting on the way(s) they were made public. My relationship with the Captivity Narratives community has in the past been that of a relative outsider. As a writer of stories about contemporary imprisonment I was not working in the tradition as it existed. Mark Allen was interested to push the boundaries of the genre and so made a space for me. At this conference I found myself reading my paper alongside Anne Babson of The University of Mississippi who made a presentation about a contemporary prison poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca. Our papers are to be published in Feb 2012 in a book The Captivity Narrative edited by Mark Allen. Writing about contemporary incarceration is becoming an established part of the CN genre. This was a conference with 4000+ attendees. I focussed on panels which were concerned with biography and fictionalised biography. I am still interested in the ways in which the techniques of fiction are used to produce versions of truth-telling.