Demands of the Dead: Executions, Storytelling, and Activism in the United States (Paperback)

Demands of the Dead: Executions, Storytelling, and Activism in the United States Cover Image
By Katy Ryan (Editor)
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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 striking 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.

Highlighting collaborations between writers inside and outside prison, all within the context of the history of state killing laws and foundational concepts that perpetuate a culture of violent death, Demands of the Dead opens with a pamphlet dictated by Willie Francis, a teenager who survived a first execution attempt in Louisiana’s electric chair before he was subsequently killed by the state in 1947.

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 such writers as Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Gertrude Atherton, Ernest Gaines, Sonia Sanchez, Kia Corthron, and Sherman Alexie. A major contribution to literary studies and American prison studies, Demands of the Dead asserts the relevance of storytelling to ethical questions and matters of public policy.

Sherman Alexie
John Cyril Barton
Steve Champion
Kia Corthron
Thomas Dutoit
Willie Francis
H. Bruce Franklin
Tom Kerr
David Kieran
Jennifer Leigh Lieberman
Jill McDonough
Anthony Ross
Katy Ryan
Elizabeth Ann Stein
Rick Stetter
Matthew Stratton
Jason Stupp
Delbert Tibbs

About the Author

Katy Ryan is an associate professor of English at West Virginia University. In 2004, she founded 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 (2011).

Praise For…

“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.”—Sister Helen Prejean

“Katy Ryan pulls off a rare feat with Demands of the Dead, producing a book that is intensely scholarly and deeply personal. It feels at once like a fiery speech from the pulpit and a well-reasoned argument against capital punishment. A book of both historical and literary weight.”—Robert K. Elder, author, Last Words of the Executed

“Katy Ryan’s Demands of the Dead is fascinating and important, intelligent, and full of urgency and moral righteousness. I was completely taken by the testimonies of those on death row. This book should be read by as many people as possible.”—Nick Flynn, author, The Ticking Is the Bomb

Product Details
ISBN: 9781609380885
ISBN-10: 1609380886
Publisher: University Of Iowa Press
Publication Date: April 15th, 2012
Pages: 320
Language: English