Synopses & Reviews
“A boy with no one to listen becomes a man in prison for life and discovers his mind can be free. A woman enters prison to teach and becomes his first listener. And so begins a twenty-five year friendship between two gifted writers and poets. The result is By Heart— a book that will anger you, give you hope, and break your heart."—Gloria Steinem
For most of their adult lives, since meeting as teacher and pupil at San Quentin State Prison, Judith Tannenbaum and Spoon Jackson have conferred, corresponded, and sometimes collaborated, producing very different bodies of work resting on the same understanding: that human beings have one foot in darkness, another in light. Moving stories of their childhoods and adult creative lives reveal both tragedy and beauty.
In alternating chapters—part memoir, part essay—By Heart reveals painful truths about prison, education, and which children our world nurtures and which it shuns. At its core are two stories that speak for human imagination, spirit, and expression.
Judith Tannenbaum is a nationally respected poet, educator, lecturer, and the author of Disguised as a Poem, among other works, including poetry, anthologies, and guidebooks for teaching arts in prison. She coordinates training at WritersCorps.
Born into an impoverished family of fifteen boys, Spoon Jackson was sentenced to life without possibility of parole by age twenty. He discovered himself as a writer for the first time in prison, eventually becoming an award-winning, internationally-known poet and essayist, as well as a facilitator of creative writing classes for other prisoners.
Praise for By Heart
"Like all good books, By Heart disrupts our assumptions, causes us to question our preconceptions, and reminds us of a commonly held humanity that is always the subject of Art, the engine of Love and should be the only authority of Justice."
- LJ Moore, The Examiner
"When two poets write a memoir, it has a vividness, substantiality and eloquence that set it apart. Unlike many contemporary memoirs which focus on a capital P Problem, "By Heart" includes the authors' suffering without trying to market it or glamorize it. Much of "By Heart" is about the way that writers become writers. Although their backgrounds and life circumstances are immensely different, both Judith and Spoon are observant, solitary, attentive to nature and its lack."
- Ruth Gendler, Head Butler
"By Heart is a moving encounter between freedom and prison, art, beauty and desolation, silence and voice ... It is passionate and tender, raw and realistic ... It is a love story but not love between people; it is about love for ourselves and our humanity. This is a book that I would wish for every educator to read."
- The Book Nook
"There's a crooked symmetry in this remarkable book: poetry and teaching rescued Tannenbaum, and prison provided her with the lifeline of a writing community; poetry also awakened Jackson, but for him it was a counterforce to prison's destructive power."
- Bell Gale Chevigny, emerita professor of literature at the College of Purchase, State University of New York, former chair of the PEN Prison Writing Program
"A boy with no one to listen becomes a man in prison for life and discovers his mind can be free. A woman enters prison to teach and becomes his first listener. And so begins a twenty-five year friendship between two gifted writers and poets. The result is By Heart a book that will anger you, give you hope, and break your heart."
- Gloria Steinem
"A remarkable memoir of two powerful personalities brought together through poetry and prison. Through Judith's genuineness a poet awoke and found a way to live a fuller life in spite of confinement, and through Spoon's honesty and talent many people will be compelled to contribute to society, even if society has abandoned them."
- Joseph Lea, Library Media Specialist, York Correctional Institution, Niantic, CT
"In their remarkable memoir, Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum show us how words change lives, how poetry invites you to free your mind, even in a maximum security prison. By Heart is their profoundly inspirational story, an engaging and enlightening examination of two people thrown together in a dark place and how both journey through darkness and into the light."
- Ken Lamberton, author of Wilderness and Razor Wire: A Naturalist's Observations from Prison and other books
"By Heart is... a fascinating glimpse into a world that is mostly forgotten by those outside of it."
- Booksexy Review
Two California poets plumb the telling depths of their creative lives and souls across prison bars.
This two-person memoir delves deeply into art, education, prison, possibility, and which children our world nurtures and which it shuns.
"A boy with no one to listen becomes a man in prison for life. He reads for the first time, and discovers his mind can be free. A woman poet enters a prison to teach, becomes his first listener, and so begin twenty-five years of friendship between two gifted writers and poets... their book will open your heart." --Gloria Steinem
"A portrait of prison and of the pursuit of art. An amazing combo, a compelling read." --Bill Irwin, TONY winning actor, appeared in the Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot
"This is a book about poetry, about struggle, about freedom and incarceration, and most of all about heart." --devorah major, San Francisco Poet Laureate 2002-2005
"Bravo Judith and Spoon for a beautiful work of art." --Piri Thomas, writer, poet, author of "Down These Mean Streets"
"By Heart is so beautifully described, both objectively and emotionally." --Barney Rosset, Publisher/Editor of Grove Press 1951-1985
"This double memoir is imperative for artists who understand the need to reveal and share our common humanity. Spoon Jackson's and Judith Tannenbaum's journeys through childhood, love, loss, and back to poetry move and astound me." --Rhodessa Jones, Founder/Artistic Director of The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women
About the Author
Judith Tannenbaum is a respected poet, writer, educator and lecturer, who has taught poetry in California public schools, state universities, and prisons throughout the nation. She is the prolific author of memoirs, volumes of poetry, and edited anthologies, as well as seminal guidebooks, including the Manual For Artists Working In Prison. She has coordinated training at WritersCorps since 1994.
Spoon Jackson is a published poet and essayist serving a Life without Possibility of Parole sentence since 1977. His writing has received awards from the William James Association's Prison Arts Project and from PEN American Center's Prison Writing Program. His poetry is known internationally, especially in Sweden. He facilitates two creative writing classes for prisoners at California State Prison, Sacramento.
Table of Contents
1. This Near-Stranger's Words
2. In Silence
4. Nowhere but Barstow and Prison
5. By Heart
7. Artistic Imperialism
8. The Poet
9. Way Out in the Bay
11. Cure for Cancer
13. Write Reckless
15. Power or Prison
16. The Circle
About the Authors